Proving damages sustained by injured plaintiffs and their family members is one of the most important skills required of experienced personal injury attorneys in Chicago and Illinois as a whole. Successful personal injury trial lawyers must be able to communicate persuasively to a jury support for each element of damages available under Illinois law in personal injury actions.
In Poliszczuk v. Winkler, No. 1-07-0490 (Ill. App. Ct. 1st Dist. Dec. 1, 2008), the plaintiffs (two minor siblings) brought a personal injury action arising out a motor vehicle accident in which their vehicle was struck in the rear by the defendant. The defendant admitted negligence prior to trial, and the case proceeded to a jury trial on the issue of causation and damages.
The jury rendered verdicts in favor of the plaintiffs and awarded them modest damages — namely, $39,100 collectively for “past and future medical expenses” and “past and future pain and suffering.” However, the jury awarded the plaintiffs $0 for past and future “disability” and “loss of a normal life.”
In plaintiffs’ post-trial motion and on appeal, they argued that the jury’s verdicts were “against the manifest weight of the evidence” and were “internally inconsistent” and inadequate. The trial court denied the plaintiffs’ motion and the appellate court affirmed.
First, the court held that while it was error for the jury to have been instructed on both “disability” and “loss of normal life” because, as “instruction IPI Civil (2000) No. 30.04.01 makes clear, it is either one or the other.” However, the court found no prejudice to the defendant because the jury returned verdicts of $0 for both disability and loss of normal life.
Second, the court held that the jury verdicts were not internally inconsistent or inadequate. The court noted that the Illinois Supreme Court, in Snover v. McGraw, 172 Ill. 2d 438 (1996), rejected the previous rule that an award for medical expenses without an award for pain and suffering and/or disability required reversal per se. Instead, the Court “held that a jury may award pain-related medical expenses and, at the same time, may also determine that the evidence of pain and suffering was insufficient to support a further monetary award. Snover, 172 Ill. 2d at 448.
The court may overturn a jury award “only if the jury ignored an element of damages, acted out of passion or prejudice, or made an award not reasonably related to loss.” Snover, 172 Ill. 2d at 447. According to the court, the fact that the jury chose to award no money for disability and for loss of normal life, while awarding money for medical expenses and pain and suffering “is not proof, by itself, that the jury ‘ignored’ that element.” Second, plaintiffs were not claiming that the jury acted out of passion or prejudice.
Thus, the issue was whether the jury verdicts were “reasonably related” to the loss suffered by the plaintiffs. The court noted that disability and loss of normal life are “separate and distinct from either past and future medical expenses or pain and suffering.”
Further, unlike economic damages, “disability or loss or normal life award is ‘not as readily calculable in money and jurors must draw on their real life experience in making an award.” The court held that the evidence in the record supported the jury award of $0 damages for disability and loss of normal life. Accordingly, the court affirmed the trial court’s denial of plaintiffs’ post-trial motions.