Illinois Appellate Court Reverses Order of New Trial After $9.9 Million Jury Verdict from Crane-Lift Injury

Plaintiff Frank Russo filed a lawsuit against the defendant, Corey Steel Co., to recover damages for injuries he suffered when a crane struck a lift in which Russo was working at the defendant’s plant. Corey Steel admitted liability, and the matter proceeded to a trial before a jury to deliberate solely on the issue of damages.

Following the trial, the jury signed a verdict in favor of Russo for a total amount of $9.9 million in damages. Corey Steel retained additional counsel, and as a result, the trial judge who presided over the trial recused himself of the post-trial proceedings.

Corey Steel filed a post-trial motion for a new trial on several grounds. The post-trial judge granted defendant’s motion for a new trial based solely on defendant’s argument that the trial judge erroneously allowed one of plaintiff’s experts to offer an opinion on plaintiff’s need for one future surgery. The trial judge had allowed the plaintiff’s expert’s testimony to stand. The post-trial judge denied defendant’s post-trial motion on the other grounds raised in the motion.

Plaintiff appealed, arguing the post-trial judge should not have reversed the trial judge’s ruling on the admissibility of the expert’s opinion about future surgery.

The amount of damages was the only question for the jury in the admitted-liability, personal-injury lawsuit. Russo, who had hip surgery after this incident, wanted to present testimony from Dr. Jeffrey Coe, a physician who has a PhD. in occupational medicine, who testified that it would be reasonably likely that Russo will need additional hip surgery in the future.

The defendant Corey Steel’s attorney objected to this testimony because Dr. Coe’s specialty is occupational medicine, not orthopedic surgery.  The trial judge, however, permitted the testimony to be heard and considered by the jury.

The Illinois Appellate Court reversed the order that granted the post-trial motion for a new trial, explaining that the successor judge’s ruling was subject to de novo review because it was based on the successor’s conclusion that, as a matter of law, Dr. Coe was not qualified to give an opinion of the need for future surgery. And the second judge erred in concluding that only an orthopedic surgeon was competent to testify on whether it is reasonably likely Russo will need additional hip surgery.

In reaching this decision, the appeals panel referred to Balciunas v. Duff, 94 Ill.2d 176 (1983) where the Illinois Supreme Court held as follows: “Prior interlocutory rulings should be modified or vacated by a successor judge only after careful consideration.  In the context of discovery, where abuse is said to be widespread and delay phenomenal, we think it is particularly appropriate for a judge before whom a motion for reconsideration is pending to exercise considerable restraint in reversing or modifying previous rulings. This is especially true if there is evidence of ‘judge shopping’ or it is apparent that a party is seeking, for delay or abusive purposes, a reconsideration of prior rulings.” Balciunas, 94 Ill.2d at 187-88.

Balciunas states how the successor should approach the discretionary order of a prior judge if the order comes before the successor judge. Based on this ruling, plaintiff argued that this court should conduct a de novo review of the post-trial proceedings to determine if the trial judge abused his discretion in admitting Dr. Coe’s opinion because the court was in the same position as the post-trial judge when he issued his order reversing the trial judge.

In this case, the question became whether the post-trial judge found that the trial judge’s order admitting Dr. Coe’s testimony was erroneous as a matter of law, or whether the post-trial judge believed the trial judge improperly exercised his discretion. The appeals panel found that the post-trial judge found that the prior order was erroneous as a matter of law. The post-trial judge had the power to make that determination and the court must now turn its attention to whether the determination by the post-trial judge was erroneous, the appeals panel found.

The appeals panel ruled that the trial judge did not abuse his discretion allowing Dr. Coe to offer an opinion on the plaintiff’s need for future hip surgery; the post-trial judge abused his discretion in striking Dr. Coe’s testimony and ordering a new trial. For those reasons, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed the order for a new trial and allowed the jury’s damages award to stand.

Frank Russo v. Corey Steel Company, 2018 IL App (1st) 180467.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling catastrophic injury lawsuits, work injury lawsuits, truck accident cases and crane injury lawsuits for individuals, families and loved ones who have been injured, harmed or killed by the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Wilmette, Evanston, Skokie, Rosemont, Highland Park, Romeoville, Hinsdale, St. Charles, Aurora and Elburn, Ill.

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