Attorney Martin K. Morrissey recently served as lead counsel in the preparation of the amicus brief filed on behalf of the Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel (IDC) in Peach vs. McGovern, 2019 IL 123156. The case appealed from the decision of the Appellate Court, Fifth District, and the Supreme Court issued its opinion on January 25, 2019. The case involves significant issues concerning the appropriate standards for overruling jury verdicts, as well as issues concerning the admissibility of post-accident vehicle photographs in vehicle negligence cases.
The Illinois Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court, Fifth District, and reinstated the defense verdict, finding that the trial court properly admitted post-accident vehicle photographs without expert testimony to explain the relationship of the vehicle damages to the plaintiff’s claimed injuries. The Supreme Court held that post-accident vehicle photographs are generally admissible in an automobile negligence case without expert testimony, and in so doing the Court overruled the Appellate Court cases of Baraniak v. Kurby, 371 Ill. App. 3d 310 (1st Dist. 2007), and DiCosola v. Bowman, 342 Ill. App. 3d 530 (1st Dist. 2003). The Supreme Court reaffirmed that post-accident vehicle photos, like the testimony of witnesses describing an automobile accident, are relevant to the issues of proximate cause and injury. Peach v. McGovern, at ¶ 39. The Court determined that if a jury is allowed to consider relevant testimony about vehicle speed and impact forces, then it should be permitted to consider photographs that depict the damage, or lack thereof, done to the vehicles involved in the accident. Peach at ¶ 39. The Court found that concepts of vehicle speed, force of impact, and the existence or the extent of injuries from an automobile accident does not necessarily require scientific or technical knowledge for a jury to understand such evidence. Peach at ¶ 45. Juries may consider matters of everyday knowledge, that slight force results in slight injury and great force more often results in great injury. Peach at ¶ 46.
The Supreme Court further held that sufficient evidence supported the jury’s decision in favor of the defendant, and that the Appellate Court improperly substituted its own judgment on issues of proximate cause and damages. The Court found that jurors, through their own common sense and life experience are well equipped to weigh the evidence and reach conclusions about whether the auto accident did or did not cause injury. Peach at ¶ 53.