Rodriguez v. Northeast Illinois Regional Commuter R.R. Corp, 1-10-2953 (Connors)
Facts: The plaintiff is injured on her job as a conductor pulling a switch and files a FELA claim against Metra. The plaintiff seeks damages from the jury for past and future pain and suffering, disability and lost wages. The nature and extent of her injury is hotly contested by the defendant through cross-examination of the plaintiff’s expert. The jury returns a verdict awarding damages for lost wages and pain and suffering, but not disability. The plaintiff appeals arguing that the verdict is legally inconsistent and the finding of no damages for disability was against the manifest weight of the evidence.
Holding: The verdict awarding damages for pain and suffering and lost wages relating to an injury claim but no damages for disability was not legally inconsistent because a reasonable hypothesis existed to support the finding. Further, the trial judge did not abuse its discretion in finding that the verdict was not against the manifest weight of the evidence.
Filed In Trial Book Under: New Trial – Inconsistent Verdict
Commentary: The rule for inconsistent verdicts states that a verdict is not considered irreconcilably inconsistent if it is supported by any reasonable hypothesis. One thing that stood out for me reading this case is that the opinion indicates that there was no instruction defining disability. Also, all of the expert testimony addressing disability focused upon issues of plaintiff’s ability to work. For this reason, the Appellate Court concluded that there was a reasonable hypothesis for the jury to award no damages for disability, namely that the award for lost wages covered disability. This is an unfortunate result for the plaintiff. I have always struggled with the disability element of damages because people have very different views in what disability or being disabled means. I always worry that a juror will require a plaintiff to be wheelchair-bound or brain damaged in order to think of them as “disabled.” Therefore, I typically opt to use the loss of normal life element instead. There is a specific instruction defining loss of normal life that helps jurors understand the element that they are considering. The instruction coupled with testimony from the plaintiff, and hopefully the treating physicians, should be sufficient evidence to support a finding of damages for loss of normal life as a separate element from the others. This still doesn’t mean that a finding of no damages is against the manifest weight of the evidence. As this opinion points out in it’s citations, the jury is free to weigh the credibility of the evidence and to accept or reject evidence that is presented at trial. For me, this case is a reminder of how important it is to keep the jury instructions in mind while presenting evidence and to be sure to admit evidence that covers all of the elements that need to be proven and that you will be arguing to the jury during closing arguments. There was also a discussion in this case about an issue relating to the scope of re-direct examination, where the plaintiff tried to raise issues from a report that had been barred due to Rule 213 but argued that the defendant had opened the door in its cross examination of the plaintiff’s expert. These issues are typically very fact specific and the court, not surprisingly, found that the trial court had not abused its discretion in limiting the re-direct examination.