Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Illinois
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Ammons and Riley sued Wisconsin Central under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. 51, for injuries they sustained when the train they were operating struck another train. Both alleged Wisconsin Central was negligent in violating various rules and regulations, which resulted in their injuries. Wisconsin Central alleged that plaintiffs failed to exercise ordinary care and that multiple locomotives, railroad cars, track, and track structures sustained significant damage, which caused it to spend significant amounts of money to repair, perform environmental cleanup and remediation, and incur other incidental and consequential damages. Wisconsin Central sought damages in excess of $1 million. Section 55 of the FELA prohibits “[a]ny contract, rule, regulation, or device whatsoever, the purpose or intent of which shall be to enable any common carrier to exempt itself from liability.” Section 60 prohibits “[a]ny contract, rule, regulation, or device whatsoever, the purpose, intent, or effect of which shall be to prevent employees of any common carrier from furnishing voluntarily information to a person in interest as to the facts incident to the injury or death of any employee.” Plaintiffs argued that Wisconsin Central’s counterclaims constituted a “device” designed to exempt itself from liability to pay damages to injured employees, to deter railroad employees from providing information regarding injury or death of an employee, or both. The Illinois Supreme Court held that the counterclaim was not prohibited, citing the employer’s long-standing right to sue its employees for negligence, the statute's plain language, and federal court decisions. Unlike a contractual agreement or a release, a counterclaim does not extinguish a plaintiff’s FELA cause of action or exempt the railroad employer from liability. View "Ammons v. Canadian National Railway Co." on Justia Law

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The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District entered into a contract with the Joint Venture, for the “Primary Settling Tanks and Grit Removal Facilities” project to be carried out at the Calumet water reclamation plant. Under the contract, the Joint Venture was responsible to determine the procedures and methods for the work and furnish all temporary structures and safety equipment and was responsible for the safety of all personnel on the worksite. The contract required the Joint Venture to submit plans for the work to the District’s engineer but state that the engineer’s acceptance of the plans did not relieve the Joint Venture of its responsibility for safety, maintenance, and repairs on the project. Andrews, a Joint Venture employee, suffered severe, career-ending head injuries while working on the project. In a suit alleging construction negligence, willful and wanton construction negligence, and loss of consortium, the District alleged immunity under the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act (745 ILCS 10/2-109, 2-201). The Illinois Supreme Court concluded that the District was not entitled to summary judgment of immunity. The Act immunizes a local governmental entity from liability for injuries arising out of its employee’s acts or omissions while determining policy and exercising discretion. The District did not provide evidence that its employees made discretionary or policy decisions with respect to the two-ladder configuration that resulted in Andrews’s injuries. Seven witnesses testified that no District employees weighed in on worksite safety decisions. View "Andrews v. Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago" on Justia Law

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In 2013, the Joneses sought to recover damages suffered when John contracted lung cancer, resulting from his exposure to “asbestos from one or more” of numerous companies while he was involved in the construction industry and while he repaired the brakes on motor vehicles he owned. Owens and Abex were among the named defendants. The Joneses asserted that the defendants knew that asbestos was dangerous but conspired to misrepresent its dangers and to falsely represent that exposure to asbestos and asbestos-containing products was safe or nontoxic. Abex and Owens argued that the civil conspiracy claims were based on the same facts as those advanced unsuccessfully by other plaintiffs in numerous earlier cases, particularly the Illinois Supreme Court’s 1999 McClure decision. The circuit court entered summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The appellate court reversed. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed and remanded. Instead of undertaking a meaningful evaluation of the applicability of the legal principles governing civil conspiracy as articulated in the cited precedent, and with no real assessment of whether and to what extent any factual differences between those cases and this one might justify a different result, the appellate court summarily distinguished the prior decisions on the sole grounds that the civil conspiracy claims advanced against Owens and Abex in those cases were decided in the context of motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, while here they were resolved on motions for summary judgment. View "Jones v. Pneumo Abex LLC" on Justia Law

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The Grossens own but do not live on, Parcel A, adjacent to Parcel B, leased by Frank. The parcels are separated by a common fence. Frank has used Parcel B for pasturing cattle since 2009 and, under his lease is responsible for maintaining the fences on the parcel. When Frank repaired the fence he did not notify the Grossens. In 2011, Frank’s cattle escaped to a nearby road, where Raab collided with a cow. Raab sued, citing the Animals Running Act. Frank filed a third-party complaint against the Grossens under the Contribution Act, citing the Fence Act, negligence, and breach of contract. The cow that injured Raab escaped through a portion of the fence the Grossens were obligated to maintain under a contract between previous owners. The circuit court approved a $225,000 settlement agreement between Raab and Frank; determined that the Animals Running Act barred any contribution from nonowners or nonkeepers of livestock and that Frank’s failure to notify the Grossens of known deficiencies in the fence barred liability under the Fence Act; and held that a breach of the fence contract could not create that liability to Raab, so the contract could not be the basis for contribution. The appellate court reversed in part. The Illinois Supreme Court held that common law does not provide a basis to hold a nonowner or nonkeeper of livestock liable in tort for damage caused by a neighbor’s animals; the Animals Running Act is not a source of a duty for nonowners and nonkeepers to restrain neighboring cattle. Since Frank has not otherwise established potential tort liability, breach of contract does not give rise to liability under the Contribution Act. View "Raab v. Frank" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, Jane and her parents, sued two individuals and several entities including and affiliated with the United Church of Christ (UCC) after Jane was sexually assaulted by a youth pastor. Plaintiffs alleged that the First Congregational Church of Dundee (FCCD) and its pastor, James, negligently and willfully and wantonly hired, supervised, and retained FCCD’s director of youth ministries, Plaintiffs amended their complaint twice. All counts of the second amended complaint were dismissed as against FCCD and James. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the striking of portions of the plaintiffs’ complaint but reinstated all counts of the complaint. The stricken statements concerned FCCD’s and James’s post-assault actions, which do not support plaintiffs’ claims of an ongoing conscious disregard for Jane’s welfare or a pattern of conduct prior to the assault nor do they make it more likely or less likely that they acted negligently before the assault. The negligent hiring, negligent supervision, and negligent retention counts were reinstated, as were the willful and wanton counts inasmuch as they overlap with the negligent supervision counts but not to the extent they overlap with the negligent retention counts. View "Doe v. Coe" on Justia Law

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In 1993, ISU student Lockmiller was found dead in her Normal apartment. Police questioned Lockmiller’s then-boyfriend, Swaine, and former boyfriends, including Beaman. At a meeting including the McLean County prosecutors and several detectives, the prosecutors decided to charge Beaman. In discussing Lockmiller’s relationship with Murray with defense counsel, the prosecution did not disclose Murray’s drug use and incidents of domestic violence against another girlfriend, nor Murray’s incomplete polygraph examination. At trial, the state argued that all other possible suspects were excluded by alibis. Beaman was convicted of first-degree murder. Beaman sought postconviction relief, based on failure to disclose material information on Murray’s viability as a suspect. In 2008, the Illinois Supreme Court vacated Beaman’s conviction. The state dismissed the charges. In April 2013, the state certified his innocence. Beaman filed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 suit against the prosecutors and detectives with state law claims, including malicious prosecution, against the Town of Normal. The district court dismissed the claims. In 2014, Beaman filed a state court suit against the detectives and Normal, pleading the state law claims that the federal court had dismissed without prejudice. The circuit court granted defendants summary judgment, reasoning that Beaman could not satisfy the elements to establish malicious prosecution, noting testimony that the prosecutor rejected suggestions to investigate other avenues. The appellate court affirmed. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. The appellate court erroneously focused its inquiry on whether the “officer[s] pressured or exerted influence on the prosecutor’s decision or made knowing misstatements upon which the prosecutor relied" and failed to consider whether the defendants proximately caused the commencement or continuance or played a significant role in Beaman’s prosecution. View "Beaman v. Freesmeyer" on Justia Law

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A motorist whose vehicle was rear-ended sued the other driver. The circuit court entered judgment for the defendant. The appellate court reversed and remanded for a new trial on damages, holding that the circuit court erred in allowing admission of postaccident photographs of the vehicles absent expert testimony and that the jury verdict was not supported by the evidence. The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. The photographs were relevant because they had a tendency to make a fact that was of consequence to the determination of the action, the existence and extent of plaintiff’s injuries, more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence and to aid in the determination of credibility of the parties and, thus, admissible. If a jury is allowed to consider relevant testimony about vehicle speed and impact forces, a jury should be permitted to consider photographs that depict the damage, or lack thereof, done to the vehicles. the circuit court could properly have found that the pictures, when considered with other evidence, were relevant to prove the matters at issue were “more or less probable.” View "Peach v. McGovern" on Justia Law

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Keith's estate filed a wrongful death and survival action against Ortberg, a licensed clinical social worker and employee assistance program counselor, and her employer Rockford Memorial Hospital, alleging that, on September 30, 2005, Keith had an initial appointment with Ortberg; that it was Ortberg’s duty to evaluate Keith’s mental health condition; that Ortberg breached her duty by performing an inadequate assessment and failed to recognize that Keith was at high risk for suicide, and failed to refer him to an emergency room or a psychiatrist for immediate treatment. Keith died by suicide on or about October 6, 2005. The circuit court submitted an instruction, over plaintiff’s objection, asking the jury to respond “Yes” or “No”: Was it reasonably foreseeable to Ortberg on September 30, that Keith would commit suicide on or before October 9? The jury entered a general verdict in favor of the plaintiff, awarding damages of $1,495,151, but answered “No” on the special interrogatory. The circuit court ruled that the special interrogatory answer was inconsistent with the general verdict and entered judgment in defendants’ favor. The appellate court found, and the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed, that the special interrogatory was not in proper form and should not have been given to the jury; it did not apply the objective “reasonable person” standard for determining foreseeability and, therefore, misstated the law, Because the special interrogatory was ambiguous, the jury’s answer was not necessarily inconsistent with its general verdict. View "Stanphill v. Ortberg" on Justia Law

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Defendant struck Plaintiff, a pedestrian with his vehicle. Plaintiff filed a personal injury suit. Defendant filed an answer with an affirmative defense. Defendant answered an interrogatory about his drivers' license by stating that he had diabetes and required medical approval to drive, but refused to answer follow-up questions about his medical condition, stating that the question violates HIPAA, doctor-patient privilege; the Defendant has not placed his medical condition at issue. The court found that Plaintiff had legitimate cause to believe that Defendant had sight problems that could have been related to the accident and held Defendant’s attorney in contempt. The court found the attorney was not entitled to assert the physician-patient privilege, 735 ILCS 5/8-802. The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court’s reversal of the contempt order. A plaintiff may not waive a defendant’s privilege by putting the defendant’s medical condition at issue. Neither the plaintiff nor the defendant asserted anything about defendant’s physical or mental condition. If these allegations put a defendant’s medical condition in issue, then it will be at issue in most traffic accident cases. The court urged the legislature to clarify the meaning of “at issue” and noted that, when a patient obtains a physician’s report to maintain his driving privileges, he is not seeking treatment so the privilege does not apply to the record filed with the Secretary of State. View "Palm v. Holocker" on Justia Law

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Mroczko was employed by A&R as a custodian in a building where Pepper was performing maintenance work. Pepper's subcontractor, Perez, was replacing the carpets. While Mroczko was cleaning, a desk that had been placed in an upright position fell and injured her. Mroczko filed a successful workers’ compensation claim against A&R but failed to file a timely personal injury action. A&R filed a subrogation action. The Workers’ Compensation Act. 820 ILCS 305/5(b), permits an employee to file her own personal injury action against a third-party tortfeasor to recover damages for a work injury. The employer is entitled to reimbursement of its workers’ compensation benefits out of the proceeds obtained by the employee and has a limited right to intervene to protect its workers’ compensation lien. If the employee fails to file her own action, the employer may file the same action that the employee could have filed. The statute is silent as to whether an employee has the right to intervene in the employer's action. While A&R’s litigation was pending, Mroczko filed her own personal injury action, which was dismissed as barred by the two-year statute of limitations. Mroczko filed an amended complaint against Pepper only, alleging that her injuries arose out of Pepper’s construction work so that her action was timely under the four-year construction statute of limitations. The court dismissed the action. Mroczko then sought to intervene in A&R’s subrogation action. The circuit court denied that petition, citing res judicata. The Illinois Supreme Court agreed. Whether Mroczko had an interest in A&R’s action based on A&R’s pursuit of damages, including for her pain and suffering, is irrelevant to res judicata, which applies because Mroczko previously asserted the same claim against the same defendant, which resulted in a final judgment on the merits. View "A&R Janitorial v. Pepper Construction Co." on Justia Law