Motion 20-Plaintiff's Opposition to Remittitur of Judgment in Car Accident Case

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Plaintiffs' Response to Ronald Weidner and Ronald Weidner, Inc.'s Post Trial Motion

NOW COME the plaintiffs, GEORGE HISCOTT and JUNE HISCOTT, by and through their attorneys, MUNDAY & NATHAN, and in response to the Post Trial Motion filled by defendants RONALD WEIDNER and RONALD WEIDNER, INC. (hereinafter collectively referred to as “WEIDNER”), state as follows:

On March 23, 2000, this Honorable Court entered judgment on a jury verdict as follows:

- in favor of plaintiff JUNE HISCOTT and against WEIDNER in the amount of $ 476,781.30 plus costs;

- in favor of plaintiff JUNE HISCOTT and against defendant ROSS PETERS in the amount of $ 52, 975.70 plus costs;

- in favor of plaintiff GEORGE HISCOTT and against WEIDNER in the amount of $ 206,820.00 plus costs;

- in favor of plaintiff GEORGE HISCOTT and against WEIDNER in the amount of $ 22,980.00 plus costs;

(A copy of said order is attached hereto Exhibit “A”). The jury verdict was based on a review of all of the evidence presented at trial, the law provided by the court, and determination that WEIDNER had 90% fault for the collision, and PETERS had 10% fault.

The arguments WEIDNER sets forth in the Post Trial Motion are completely without merit: they are inconsistent with the evidence presented at trial and are contrary to Illinois law. For the reasons set forth below, this Honorable Court should enter an order denying Post Trial Motion, and granting plaintiffs any other relief this court deems proper due to the filing of such a baseless motion.

ARGUMENT

I. The Jury's Apportionment Of Liability In The Amount Of 90% To Weidner And 10% To Peters Was Not Against The Manifest Weight Of The Evidence

On a motion for a new trial, a court will weigh the evidence and set aside the verdict only if the verdict is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. Maple v. Gustafson, 151 I11.2d 445, 177 Ill.Dec. 438 (1992). The Illinois Supreme Court has declared:

[a] verdict is against the manifest weight of the evidence when the opposite conclusion is clearly evident or where the findings of the jury are unreasonable, arbitrary and not based upon any of the evidence.

Maple, 177 Ill.Dec. at 442-443; See, also. Best v. Taylor Machine Works, 179 Ill.2d 367, 228 Ill.Dec. 636 (1997). In cases where there is sufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict, it constitutes an abuse of discretion for the trial court to grant a motion for a new trial. Id. at 443.

In the present case, there is absolutely no basis for WEIDNER's argument that the findings of the jury were unreasonable, arbitrary and not based upon any of the evidence. The verdict is consistent with the evidence presented at trial: WEIDNER's conduct in colliding with the vehicle in front of him and encroaching into the oncoming lane of traffic triggered, and was the main cause of, the collision with the HISCOTTS. In fact, WEIDNER failed to see at least three vehicles that were stopped in his lane of traffic before striking the large van, starting the occurrence.

Given the evidence that was submitted concerning how the collision occurred, WEIDNER's argument defies logic. The jury heard testimony from seven witnesses as to the circumstances surrounding the collision. There was also evidence that WEIDNER knew his truck would veer to the left upon braking, and that it might do so on the day of the collision. Therefore, it was certainly reasonable for the jury to conclude that WEIDNER was 90% responsible for the HISCOTTS1 injuries.

WEIDNER presented absolutely no evidence at trial to refute the fact that his negligence started the entire chain of events. In fact, WEIDNER even admitted that after he struck the stopped van in his own lane of travel, his truck crossed over into PETERS' lane. Clearly, the jury could reasonably conclude that even if WEIDNER did not cross as far into PETERS' lane of travel as PETERS' believed, it did not change the fact that PETERS never should have had to face a vehicle coming at him from the wrong direction.

A verdict is not against the manifest weight of the evidence just because a party is unsatisfied with the result. Since it is undisputed that WEIDNER started the entire sequence of events, WEIDNER's motion for a new trial should be denied.

II. Damages For June Hiscott's Future Pain And Suffering Were Not Against The Manifest Weight Of The Evidence

It is axiomatic that the amount of damages awarded lies within the sound discretion of the jury. Clark v. Owens-Brockway Glass Container, Inc., 297 Ill.App.3d 694, 232 Ill.Dec. 1 (5th Dist. 1998). A reviewing court will not substitute its judgment for that of a jury unless the award is so large as to shock the conscience of the court or it is outside the limit of fair and reasonable compensation. Clark, 232 Ill.Dec. at 6. Further, the Illinois Supreme Court has declared that, “a damages award will not be subject to remittitur where it falls within the flexible range of conclusions which can reasonably be supported by the facts because the assessment of damages is primarily an issue of fact for jury determination.” See, Best, 228 Ill.Dec. at 658.

In addition, the jury's verdict must be against the manifest weight of the evidence in order to grant a partial j.n.o.v. or new trial. Maple, 177 Ill.Dec. at 442. The law concerning this has been previously discussed with respect to the issue of apportionment, and is equally applicable to the present issue.

In the instant case, a review' of the evidence clearly demonstrates that the jury's verdict of $ 110,000 for future pain and suffering does not “shock the conscience of the court” and is not, “outside the limit of fair and reasonable compensation.” See, Clark, 232 Ill.Dec. at 6. According to a life table admitted into evidence, June Hiscott could be expected to live 11.3 years. As the court may recall, Dr. Baier testified that June has permanent contracture. Furthermore, June and Dr. Baier testified about the weakness/fatigue that she continues to experience with her right leg. In fact, June Hiscott even testified about experiencing pain as she sat in the courtroom.

Furthermore, Dr. Baier testified that June Hiscott may still need two surgeries on her left wrist, and it is highly probable that she is going to have arthritis in that wrist. WEIDNER's argument defies logic, since a jury could reasonably infer future pain and suffering involved with undergoing two future surgeries.

As a result, the jury's verdict for June Hiscott's future pain and suffering is not against the manifest weight of the evidence, and WEIDNER's argument is without merit and should be rejected. WEIDNER simply ignores the evidence that was presented at trial, as well as the applicable law on this issue.

It should be noted that the only case WEIDNER relies on in support of his claim, Richardson v. Chapman, 175 Ill.2d 98, 221 Ill.Dec. 818 (1997), actually demonstrates the flaws in the argument. The Richardson case provides a good example of how courts interpret, “against the manifest weight of the evidence”, and it shows the type of facts necessary to satisfy such a burden.

In Richardson, a plaintiff retained an economist who testified as to “lower bound” and “upper bound” figures in computing the future medical expenses of the plaintiff. The economist testified that the present cash value of plaintiff's future medical expenses had a “lower bound” of $ 7.37 million, and an “upper bound” of $ 9.57 million. Richardson, 221 Ill.Dec. at 822.

The jury returned a verdict awarding the plaintiff $ 11 million for future medical costs, which was nearly $ 1.5 million more than the larger of the two figures claimed by plaintiff at trial. Id. at 825. The Illinois Supreme Court found that even though the trier of fact enjoys a certain degree of leeway in awarding compensation for future medical costs that are not specifically itemized in the testimony, the disparity between the evidence and the jury's verdict was so great that it was against the manifest weight of the evidence. Id.

It should be noted, however, that the Court still largely deferred to the jury since it only reduced the award by $ 1 million of the nearly $ 1.5 million differential between the jury's award and the “upper bound” figure plaintiff presented at trial. Id. The Court stated that awarding $ 500,000 more for future medical costs than the specific estimates introduced at trial was not so large that it represented a departure from the trial testimony. Id.

The Richardson case serves as a fine example of the discrepancy necessary between the evidence and the jury's verdict for the verdict to shock the judicial conscience, requiring a reduction. In the present case, unlike the situation in Richardson, the jury's verdict of $ 110,000 for June Hiscott's future pain and suffering was supported by the evidence. WEIDNER fails to demonstrate that this award was “against the manifest weight of the evidence” as the standard has been applied by the Illinois Supreme Court. See, Id.

Furthermore, WEIDNER's claim that the award allows June Hiscott, “to recover the same amount annually essentially, as she has received for her last 2 ½ years of discomfort” simply does not make sense, since she was awarded $ 100,000 for her past pain and suffering, not $ 10,000. (See WEIDNER's Post Trial Motion, Section II). This claim, consistent with the remainder of WEIDNER's argument, is incorrect and should be rejected.

III. The Jury Properly Awarded Damages To June Hiscott For Emotional Distress
(a) Damages awarded to June Hiscott for emotional distress were properly recoverable under Illinois law.

I.P.I. Civil No. 30.05.01 recognizes emotional distress as an element of damages that, if supported by the evidence, may be considered by a jury in awarding damages for negligence. Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions- Civil, No. 30.05.01 (3rd ed. 1995). Plaintiffs' first amended complaint against WEIDNER was based on a negligence theory, and sought damages for injuries that were proximately caused by the occurrence, including emotional trauma. (See plaintiffs' first amended complaint, count I, paragraph 6, and count II, paragraph 7). Therefore, WEIDNER is mistaken when he claims that plaintiffs neither pleaded nor proved a case for emotional trauma and distress.

In addition, WEIDNER's argument ignores the law in Illinois that liberally allows amendments to pleadings to conform to the proof that is adduced at trial. See, 735 ILCS 5/2-616; Ryan v. Mobil Oil Corp., 157 Ill.App.3d 1069, 110 Ill.Dec. 131 (1st Dist. 1987). This liberal policy includes permitting amendments after the close of evidence, and even allows amendments in such cases where no excuse is presented for failing to put the substance of the amendment in the original pleading. See, e.g., Ryan, 110 Ill.Dec. at 134-135; Luther v. Norfolf & Western RR Co., 272 Ill.App.3d 16, 208 Ill.Dec. 640, at 648 (5th Dist. 1995).

As the Illinois Appellate Court for the First District stated, “[t]he greatest liberality should be applied in allowing amendments ...” Ryan, 110 Ill.Dec. at 134. All doubts should be allowed in favor of allowing amendments, provided that the materiality of the amendments to the evidence introduced- is apparent such that justice is served. Ryan, 110 Ill.Dec. at 134-135.

Given the law concerning amendments to pleadings, it is apparent that even if the plaintiffs' complaint had not specifically sought damages for negligent infliction of emotional distress, WEIDNER's argument that plaintiffs somehow waived this claim is without merit. Once this court concluded that there was sufficient proof adduced at trial to support the claim for damages relating to June Hiscott's emotional distress, justice would be served by allowing an amendment to plaintiffs' complaint, if necessary.

Furthermore, since the evidence concerning June Hiscott's emotional distress was the same as, or inextricably intertwined with, the evidence offered at trial to support plaintiffs' complaint, WEIDNER could not have been surprised at trial. See, e.g., Zook v. Norfolf & Western RR Co., 268 Ill.App.3d 157, 205 Ill.Dec. 231 (4th Dist. 1994), (trial court properly allowed amendment to complaint at trial where the evidence was the same as, or inextricably intertwined with, evidence offered to support plaintiff's complaint, so the defendant could not have been surprised at trial).

Thus, to the extent that it is even deemed necessary (which plaintiffs believe it is not), plaintiffs seek to amend their complaint to specifically seek compensation for the emotional distress supported by the proof at trial.

WEIDNER further claims that, “June Hiscott's claim for emotional distress is apparently based on the emotional distress she suffered from while watching her husband's injuries and recovery.” (See WEIDNER's motion, Section III(l)). While it is true that one cannot recover damages for emotional distress based solely on witnessing another's injuries, WEIDNER once again ignores the evidence presented to the jury.

June Hiscott testified as to the significant emotional impact of her diminished independence and increased confinement at this stage in her life. She testified she felt depressed, belittled and restricted as a result of her physical injuries. She also testified how she was scared to go out and do things (i.e. she chooses to wait for parking lots to be built closer to the botanical garden rather than visit the garden). Further, she testified as to her overall feeling of loss of value. In addition, George Hiscott testified as to how the injuries have adversely effected June's state of mind. Obviously, the evidence supported the jury's determination that June Hiscott suffered real and significant emotional distress arising out of the injuries she sustained in the collision.

The Illinois Supreme Court has determined that jurors from their own experience will be able to determine whether conduct results in severe emotional disturbance, stating, “this court has not lost its faith in the ability of jurors to fairly determine what is, and is not, emotional distress.” Corgan v. Muehling, 143 Ill. 2d 296, 158 Ill.Dec.' 489, at 496. In the instant case, the jury properly determined that June Hiscott was entitled to damages for the emotional distress experienced as a result of WEIDNER's conduct.

The cases cited by WEIDNER are inapplicable, as they all address “bystander cases” involving claims for emotional distress arising solely from witnessing another's injuries, and not based on the person's injuries or fear of injury to herself. See, e.g., Alexander v. DePaepe, 148 Ill.App.3d 831, 102 Ill.Dec. 285 (2nd Dist. 1986); Rickey v. C.T.A., 98 Ill.2d 546, 75 Ill.Dec. 211 (1983). June Hiscott's damages were related to her own injuries, and fears arising out of those injuries. As a result, WEIDNER's reliance on Alexander and Rickey is misplaced.

Given the evidence, the jury's verdict awarding JUNE HISCOTT damages for emotional distress was not against the manifest weight of the evidence. Accordingly, WEIDNER's Post Trial Motion should be denied.

(b) There was sufficient evidence to support the damages awarded to June Hiscott for her emotional distress.

WEIDNER also mistakenly claims that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's decision to award June Hiscott damages for emotional distress. WEIDNER's argument relies on outdated caselaw which is contrary to more recent decisions by the Illinois Supreme Court.

WEIDNER cites Allen v. Otis Elevator Co., 206 Ill.App.3d 173, 150 Ill.Dec. 699 (1st Dist. 1990) and Robbins v. Kass, 163 Ill.App.3d 927, 114 Ill.Dec. 868 (2nd Dist. 1987), arguing that a plaintiff seeking compensation for emotional distress must show manifestations of physical injury or illness as a result of the emotional distress. This argument ignores the decision by the Illinois Supreme Court in Corgan v. Muehlinq, 143 Ill.2d 296, 158 Ill.Dec. 489 (1991).

In Corqan, the Illinois Supreme Court held that it is not a requirement in an action seeking damages for emotional distress for a plaintiff to allege having suffered a physical injury or illness as a result of the emotional distress. Corqan, 158 Ill.Dec. at 496. This holding was recently reinforced by the Supreme Court in Brogan v. Mitchell Int‘l. Inc., 181 Ill.2d 178, 229 Ill.Dec. 503 (1998), where the Court reasoned that juries were capable of determining whether claims of emotional distress were genuine. Brogan, 229 Ill.Dec. at 505.

Given the Supreme Court's holding in Corqan, as well as the jury's determination that June Hiscott suffered significant emotional distress based upon the evidence discussed above, WEIDNER's argument is improper and the Post Trial Motion should be denied.

(c) The jury's decision. to award June Hiscott damages for emotional distress is not duplicative of the amounts recovered for pain and suffering and disability.

There is absolutely no basis for WEIDNER's position that the jury's award for June Hiscott's emotional distress is somehow duplicative of the other elements of damages. The only case cited by WEIDNER in support of his position is a Fifth District case, Johnson v. May, 223 Ill.App.3d 477, 165 Ill.Dec. 828 (5th Dist. 1992), which does not even address the issue for which it is cited.

In Johnson, the appellate court found that the jury's verdict was manifestly inadequate, as proven elements of damages were ignored and the verdict bore no reasonable relationship to the loss suffered. Johnson, 165 Ill.Dec. at 834-836. The Fifth District in Johnson did not address when it is proper for a jury to award damages specifically for emotional distress, and it certainly did not hold the proposition for which it has been cited by WEIDNER. In fact, a more recent Fifth District case demonstrates the flaw in WEIDNER's argument, since a jury's verdict awarding damages for pain and suffering, disability and emotional distress was affirmed on March 24, 2000. See, e.g., Vojas v. K-Mart Corp., 2000 WL 306764, Docket No. 5-99-0170.

There is simply no support for WEIDNER's argument on this issue. The jury's basis for determining June Hiscott was entitled to damages for emotional distress, as well as pain and suffering, have been previously set forth above and are equally applicable to refute WEIDNER's claim on this point.

In addition, the jury could reasonably infer, as they did, that an award of disability was also warranted based upon the evidence. There was testimony that both plaintiffs were in bed or in a wheelchair for a number of months after this occurrence, and June still has limitations in movement even today.

A party has a right to have a jury instructed on its theory if there is some evidence in the record to support the theory. Weigman v. Hitch-Inn Post. 308 Ill.App.3d 789, 242 Ill.Dec. 335 (2nd Dist. 1999). Clearly, the jury was properly instructed and its verdict for June Hiscott's emotional distress is not duplicative of the awards for pain and suffering and disability. Thus, WEIDNER's Post Trial Motion should be denied.

(d) The jury's award of damages to June Hiscott for emotional distress is not an excessive verdict

It is undisputed that the ascertainment and assessment of damages are primarily questions of fact and are peculiarly within the province of the jury to determine. Luther. 208 Ill. Dec. at 649. A court will not substitute its judgment for that of a jury, “unless the award is so large as to shock the conscience of the court or is outside the limit of fair and reasonable compensation.” Clark. 232 Ill.Dec. at 6.

Given the evidence that was presented at trial, which has been previously set forth above, there is absolutely no basis to argue that the jury's verdict of $ 150,000 for June Hiscott's emotional distress shocks the conscience of the court or is outside the limit of fair and reasonable compensation. As a result, WEIDNER‘s. argument should be rejected.

Furthermore, WEIDNER' primarily relies on Powers v. Illinois Central Gulf R.R. Co., 9l'lll.2d 375, 63 Ill.Dec. 414 (1982) in support of his argument. In Powers, the trial court listed “nature, extent and duration of the injury” on the verdict form as a separate element of compensation. 63 Ill.Dec. at 417-418. Since there was no support under the law for giving the “nature, extent and duration” instruction in isolation, as a separate compensable element of damage, the Court held that it was highly prejudicial and improper. Id. at 418-421.

Obviously, the facts addressed by the Supreme Court in the Powers case are drastically different than the instant case. Powers fails to support WEIDNER's argument that this court should disregard the jury's verdict and order a new trial or partial j.n.o.v. Thus, WEIDNER's argument is wholly without merit and his Post Trial Motion should be denied.

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