Illinois Supreme Court Issues Opinion on Joint Tortfeasors

Last week, the Illinois Supreme Court issued an opinion in the case of Antonicelli v. Rodriguez, a personal injury car accident case involving multiple defendants. In the case, the plaintiff, Angela Antonicelli, was a passenger in a car traveling on Interstate 88. Antonicelli v. Rodriguez, 2018 IL 121943, ¶ 3.  Defendant Karl Browder was operating a semi-truck directly behind the vehicle Ms. Antonicelli was a passenger in. Id. Defendant Daniel Juan Rodriguez, while under the influence of cocaine, made an improper U-turn and struck Ms. Antonicelli’s vehicle. Id. at ¶ 4. Mr. Browder’s vehicle then slammed into Ms. Antonicelli’s vehicle. Id. As a result of the multiple collisions, Ms. Antonicelli suffered severe permanent injuries. Id.

Ms. Antonicelli brought a lawsuit against both Mr. Rodriguez and Mr. Browder (as well as Mr. Browder’s employers) to recover medical expenses and damages for her injuries. Id. at ¶ 6. Prior to the case going to trial, Ms. Antonicelli and Mr. Rodriguez entered into a settlement agreement for $20,000, the policy limits of Mr. Rodriguez’s insurance policy. Id. Mr. Browder then filed a counterclaim against Mr. Rodriguez for contribution, alleging that Mr. Rodriguez’s intentional conduct was the causation of Ms. Antonicelli’s injuries. Id. at ¶ 7.

The trial court, on Mr. Rodriguez’s petition for finding of good faith settlement, found that the settlement between Ms. Antonicelli and Mr. Rodriquez was made in good faith, and further dismissed Mr. Browder’s counterclaim against Mr. Rodriguez. Id. at ¶ 8.

Mr. Browder immediately appealed the trial court’s decision; and the appellate court found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion, by basing its decision to find good faith settlement and further dismissing Mr. Browder’s counterclaim against Mr. Rodriguez, on Ms. Antonicelli’s complaint. Id. at ¶ 10. Mr. Browder immediately appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court. Id.

In its opinion, the Supreme Court affirmed the decisions of both the trial court and appellate court. In reaching its decision, the Supreme Court looked at the Contribution Act (740 ILCS 100/2 (West 2012)). Id. at ¶ 12. Under the Contribution Act, a settling tortfeasor who settles in good faith is discharged from contribution liability and may not recover contribution from a non-settling tortfeasor. Id. at ¶ 14 (quoting 740 ILCS 10/2(d)(e)). A joint tortfeasor may only seek contribution against other joint tortfeasors who have not paid their pro rata share of liability.  Id. at ¶ 18 (quoting 740 ILCS 100/2).

The Supreme Court rejected Defendant Browder’s argument that an intentional tortfeasor cannot enter into a good faith settlement. Id. at ¶¶ 15, 16. Instead, the Court held that Browder was subject to liability as a joint tortfeasor under the Contribution Act. Id. at ¶ 18. The Court noted that joint tortfeasor liability exists regardless of whether the defendants acted in concert or without a common purpose or duty. Id. (quoting Burke v. 12 Rothchild’s Liquor Mart, Inc., 148 Ill.2d 429, 438 (1992)).  The Court pointed out that Ms. Antonicelli was injured as a result of a multivehicle accident, with the defendants not acting in concert with each other. Id. at ¶ 19.

The Court further rejected Defendant Browder’s argument that Mr. Rodriguez’s settlement with Ms. Antonicelli was not made in good faith. The Court noted that it is the discretion of the trial court to determine whether a settlement satisfies the good faith requirement of the Contribution Act. Id. at ¶¶ 23, 25. The Court pointed out that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it considered Browder’s arguments against a finding of good faith and that Rodriguez’s insurance company would have to pay its attorneys to continue in the case even though it had already offered its policy limits. Id. at ¶ 26.

Issues about contribution liability between multiple tortfeasors can easily arise. A knowledgeable personal injury attorney will know how to apply the Contribution Act and good faith settlement requirement in cases involving multiple tortfeasors.  If you or a loved one has been injured by multiple tortfeasors, contact personal injury law firm John J. Malm & Associates to learn more about how you may be entitled to receive compensation.