Illinois Appellate Court Reverses Jury Verdict Regarding Use of Expert Testimony Explaining a Prior Medical Condition

Steven Campbell testified at trial that in early July 2012 he was working for UPS when the defendant’s dog lunged at him and pushed him backward. As a result, Campbell injured his back and was not able to continue to work that day. He sought medical treatment and took some time off from work to recover.

He returned to work the next month. However, when he did return to UPS, he was unable to complete all of his normal employment responsibilities.

Just two months after Campbell’s July 2012 injury, he returned to the clinic where he had previously been treated. In November of that year, he consulted with a board-certified neurosurgeon regarding his ongoing back pain. This doctor, Dr. Kennedy, prescribed physical therapy and epidural injections. Campbell told the jury that he followed Dr. Kennedy’s advice.

At the jury trial, Dr. Kennedy’s testimony was presented by way of his deposition. Dr. Kennedy testified that an MRI conducted early in treatment revealed that Campbell had bulging disks along with an annular fissure (a tear in the outer wall of the spinal disk).

Dr. Kennedy gave an opinion that this was the result of the dog incident. During the trial, Campbell moved to exclude a portion of Dr. Kennedy’s cross-examination related to other possible causes for the annular fissure. Campbell argued that this was improper testimony because there was no expert testimony supporting the theory to a reasonable degree of medical certainty. The trial judge disagreed and denied Campbell’s motion.

The court reasoned that this line of inquiry was proper because it was elicited on cross-examination and because it related to possible alternate or subsequent causes of Campbell’s injury.

As a result, the jury heard Dr. Kennedy testify that it was possible that Campbell’s back injury could be caused by daily activities such as lifting or twisting. This was the evidence by way of testimony that came out on cross-examination.

The jury also heard Campbell affirm that he has had pain every day since September 2012. He also stated that he has lost $200,000 in wages over three years because of his back injury.

At the close of the evidence, the trial court entered a directed verdict on liability in favor of Campbell.  The jury then awarded him a total of $16,000 in damages. Campbell appealed this award based, inter alia, on the trial court’s decision regarding the Dr. Kennedy cross-examination.

The Illinois Appellate Court analysis applied the abuse of discretion standard in its review of this trial court evidentiary decision – this being the most deferential standard.

The appellate court’s decision also points out that the trial court’s incorrect view of the law is always an abuse of discretion. For authority, the Campbell appellate court looked to the Illinois Supreme Court decision in Voykin v. Estate of DeBoer, 192 Ill.2d 49 (2000).

In the Voykin case, without expert testimony establishing a causal connection, the defendant was allowed to introduce evidence regarding a five-year-old injury the plaintiff had sustained.

The appellate court reversed the trial court on the admission of this evidence and the Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court decision.

Voykin consequently determined that when a defendant seeks to introduce evidence of a prior injury or medical condition, expert evidence showing why the prior condition is relevant is required. This principle from Voykin was later extended to include evidence of subsequent injuries. See Caliban v. Patel, 322 Ill.App.3d 251 (2000).

The Campbell case was remanded for a new trial on damages after being reversed.

The takeaway from the Campbell and Voykin cases is that expert testimony is required in explaining a prior medical condition and also would be applicable for post occurrence injuries as well.

Campbell v. Autenried, 2018 IL App (5th) 170148.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling catastrophic injury lawsuits, car accident cases, truck accident cases, bicycle accident cases, motorcycle accident cases and traumatic brain injury lawsuits for individuals, families and loved ones who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Libertyville, Lincolnshire, Lincolnwood, Rosemont, Richton Park, Westchester, Wilmette, Winnetka, LaGrange, Palatine, Mount Prospect, Chicago (Austin, Polish Village, Jefferson Park, Edgebrook, Norwood Park, North Park, Albany Park, Ravenswood, Andersonville, Uptown), Stickney, Berwyn, Chicago Heights, Barrington, Palos Hills, Harvey and Calumet City, Ill.

Related blog posts:

$21.5 Million Jury Verdict is Thrown Out Because of Questions About Truthfulness and New Evidence

Illinois Appellate Court Decides that Contribution Claim Had to Be on Verdict Form

New Trial On Damages Ordered by Illinois Appellate Court in Car Accident Case