Illinois Supreme Court Overturns Decision
The Illinois Supreme Court recently released an opinion in Peach v. McGovern. As you are probably aware, DiCosola v. Bowman was a 1st District opinion which held that absent expert testimony connecting the vehicle damage depicted in post-accident photos to the plaintiff’s injuries, such photos are not relevant and, therefore, not admissible. The Illinois Supreme Court overturned that decision on January 25, 2019.
In Peach v. McGovern, the plaintiff testified that he had been in continuous pain for the past six years as a result of a rear-end auto collision, told his treating physician that the Defendant was traveling 25-30 mph when he got hit, and told his girlfriend that he had been “plowed” into. Defendant testified that she had come to a complete stop behind the Plaintiff, “spaced out” for a moment, released her foot from the brake and rolled into the back of the Plaintiff’s truck. Over the Plaintiff’s objection, the Circuit Court allowed post-accident photos of the vehicle damage which showed a minor impact. The Court found the Defendant negligent, and left the issues of causation and injury to the jury, which returned a verdict of not guilty. The Appellate Court overturned the verdict from the Circuit Court relying on the decision in DiCosola, as the Defendant did not have an expert witness connecting the vehicle damage with the injury.
The Supreme Court overturned the Appellate Court decision and upheld the decision of the Circuit Court, specifically overturning the ruling in DiCosola, in a 7-0 decision. The Supreme Court stated there is no “rigid rule that photographs of the vehicles involved in a collision are always admissible or that expert testimony is always necessary for such photographs to be admitted.” Instead, the essential question in deciding the admissibility of vehicular photographs is “whether the jury can properly relate the vehicular damage depicted in the photos to the injury without the aid of an expert.”
The Court went on to state that “post-accident photographs . . . are relevant to the issues of proximate cause and injury.” They reasoned since the jurors hear testimony from witnesses about the relevant speed and forces of impact, that a jury should be permitted to consider photographs that depict the damage, or lack thereof, done to the vehicles. Additionally, the Court stated that requiring an expert physician or auto reconstruction engineer to testify and explained evidence understood by most jurors imposes financial burdens on an already expensive process.
It should be noted that the Supreme Court believed that the photos of the vehicles in this case attacked the credibility of the Plaintiff regarding his claimed injury.