Bethany Krajelis May 30, 2013, 1:22pm


The Fifth District Appellate Court has let stand a jury verdict awarding $576,000 in damages to a woman injured in a St. Clair County accident.

In its May 22 opinion, the appeals panel affirmed a ruling from St. Clair County Circuit Judge Robert LeChien that granted plaintiff Brenda Noble’s motion in limine barring the defendants from mentioning her prior injuries and treatment, as well as a subsequent back injury.

Noble sued Earle M. Jorgensen Company (EMJ) and Mark McCollum in 2007 for personal injuries she sustained in a 2005 motor vehicle accident.

She was driving her minivan north on Route 159 in Bellville when her vehicle was struck by a tractor-trailer driven by McCollum, an employee of EMJ.

As a result of the accident, Noble claimed she suffered pain in her tailbone and injuries to various joints, muscles and discs in her gluteal and back regions.

Before trial, Noble filed a motion in limine in an attempt to prevent the defendants from mentioning any injuries or treatment she received to portions of her body unrelated to those she claims were injured as a result of the accident.

She had previously sought treatment from a chiropractor for spinal-related conditions, and was diagnosed and treated for back pain. She also sought medical attention in 2007, after the accident, for a fracture of a plate in her lower back

Noble moved to bar admission of these medical records, claiming that the defendants failed to show a causal connection between her prior and subsequent conditions and the injuries she claims to have suffered in the accident with McCollum.

The defendants then filed a response to her motion in limine, arguing that Noble’s allegations of low back pain could not solely be attributed to the 2005 accident with McCollum’s tractor-trailer.

LeChien granted the motion in limine and following a five-day trial, a jury entered a verdict awarding Noble $576,000 in damages.

The defendants asked LeChien to vacate the judgment and grant a new trial, arguing that the judge had erred in granting Noble’s motion in limine. LeChien denied their motion, spurring EMJ and McCollum to appeal.

The appeals panel, however, rejected the defendants’ argument and affirmed LeChien in its May 22 opinion that was delivered by Justice Thomas Welch. Justices Judy Cates and Bruce Stewart concurred.

On appeal, the defendants argued that they presented sufficient expert testimony at trial to causally connect Noble’s previous and subsequent injuries to those she complained she received as a result of the accident.

Welch, however, wrote that the appeals panel does not believe sufficient expert testimony was presented.

The panel also rejected the defendants’ argument that they were not required to present expert testimony to establish a causal connection because Noble’s injuries were such that a layperson could see the connection with expert assistance.

“In the present case, we do not believe that the plaintiff's injuries were such that a layperson could readily appraise the relationship between injuries located in the low back and injuries to the coccyx, piriformis muscle, and sacroiliac joint,” Welch wrote.

He added, “We note that during the course of a five-day trial, detailed expert medical testimony and anatomical drawings were presented in an effort to educate the jurors as to the location of the specific areas of the injuries and the nature and description of the various diagnoses involved.”

Mark S. Schuver and William J. Niehoff of Mathis, Marifian & Richter in Belleville represented Noble. Granite City attorney Ronald A. Roth represented the defendants.

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