Illinois Appellate Court Affirms Car Crash Verdict Despite Judge’s Error – Oglesby v. Berg

An Illinois Appellate Court denied defendant’s motion for a new trial in the Illinois auto accident lawsuit of Estate of Rosemary Oglesby et al. v. William Berg, et al., No. 1-09-0639. The defense’s appeal involved claims that the trial court had acted incorrectly when it refused to send one of the plaintiff’s medical bills to the jury during its review of the case. The jury ended up ruling in favor of the plaintiff, an outcome that the defense argued could have been different had the jury seen that medical bill.

The personal injury lawsuit involved an Illinois auto accident between the plaintiff, 60 year-old Rosemary Oglesby, and defendant William Berg, who was driving a park district van at the time of the car crash. Two days after the car accident, Oglesby presented to one of her regular physicians; Ms. Oglesby was seeing many different doctors at the time for her ongoing battle with cancer. The exhibit at issue was a billing statement from that specific doctor, which included the visit shortly after the car accident, along with twelve additional visits over the years.

The exhibit had been produced by the plaintiff, which is typical considering it was her medical bill and was likely being used to support the plaintiff’s claim for reimbursement of past medical bills. However, it was the defense that requested that this particular exhibit be presented to the jury room while it deliberated its decision in the Illinois personal injury trial. The trial judge denied the defendants’ request and the exhibit was not formally presented to the jury after the closing arguments.

The jury found in favor of the plaintiff, including damages related to her medical expenses resulting from the car crash, the property damage to her vehicle, pain and suffering, and loss of normal life that the auto accident caused her. While the jury found in favor of the plaintiff, the verdict was reduced by 40% for Oglesby’s contributory fault for the auto crash. This means that while the jury felt the defendant was mainly responsible for the car crash, that the jury still found the plaintiff to be 40% responsible for the auto accident and therefore reduced the verdict by that percentage.

In its appeal of the jury verdict, the defense argued that the trial judge had erred in his denial of its request to show the jury the medical bill exhibit and asked that the appellate court grant a new personal injury trial. According to the defendants, the judge denied their request because it was not made by the party offering the exhibit, i.e., the plaintiff, nor was it requested by the jury.

According to the appellate court, the decision of whether or not to allow the exhibit was up to the trial judge’s discretion. However, in making his decision, the appellate court was of the opinion that the judge had not actually exercised that discretion, but had instead simply ceded to the plaintiff’s wishes. Based upon this assessment, the appellate court found that “the trial court erred when it failed to exercise its discretion in denying the defendants’ request to have [the] exhibit sent to the jury room.”
However, even though the appellate court found that the judge had committed an error, it still denied the defendants’ request for a new personal injury trial. The court held that the defense had failed to demonstrate how it was prejudiced by the trial court’s denial of its request. It is not simply enough to point out a court’s error; in order to be awarded a new trial one must also establish causation, or a link between the error and the eventual jury verdict. The defense failed to do so and therefore were denied a new trial.

In addition to its request for a new trial, the defense had also petitioned the appellate court for a remittitur, or reduction, of the awarded damages in the Illinois auto accident lawsuit. A remittitur is generally awarded when the damages awarded by a jury are excessive. The normal indication that an award is excessive is if it drastically exceeds the amount asked for by the plaintiff.

The defendants were asking for a remittitur of only part of the total damages awarded; ironically, the remittitur did not relate to the medical expenses damages, but was regarding the damages awarded for pain and suffering and loss of normal life. The defense was seeking to reduce the award of these areas by 50%, lowering the award from $76,000 to $38,000.

However, the actual award of $76,000 was significantly less than the $160,000 that plaintiff had asked for, therefore it was difficult for the appellate court to see the award as “excessive” considering it was well below half of what the plaintiff was hoping to receive. The appellate court interpreted this as evidence that the jury had fairly considered all the evidence before deciding on the amount of damages and “conclude that the evidence supported the jury’s award of damages to the estate for Oglesby’s pain and suffering and loss of normal life.” Therefore, the appellate court also denied the defendants’ request for a 50% remittitur.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois automobile accidents and Cook County truck crashes for individuals and families for more than 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Lisle, Calumet City, Oak Lawn, Matteson, Dolton, Bridgeview, River Grove, and Streamwood.

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