A recent Illinois appellate court case, Sakellariadis v. Steven Campbell and Bruce Walters, No. 1-07-2845, (Ill. App. Ct. 1st Dist. May 29, 2009), involves the availability of joint and several liability in consolidated personal injury actions in Illinois. This issue, in the context of a consolidated Illinois car accident action, impacts all Chicago personal injury lawyers.
In Sakellariadis, the plaintiff had a bad year in 2001: she was involved in a serious car accident with one defendant in July, and then was involved in a separate car accident in October. She filed a personal injury action in Illinois against both defendants, alleging that each defendant’s negligence caused her permanent injuries.
The trial court consolidated the two cases. The court found both defendants were negligent, and the case went to trial solely on the issue of damages.
At trial, the evidence showed that following plaintiff’s first auto accident, she was treated for injuries to her eyes, shoulder, spine and knee, and was subsequently released from the hospital. Following the second car accident, she was treated at the hospital for leg and back pain. Eventually, she underwent surgery on her shoulder, knee, lower back and eyes.
The trial court could find no Illinois case law or patten jury instructions that applied to this set of facts. The judge gave the jury a verdict form with the various categories of damages, including past and future injuries, to assign to each defendant.
While the jury was deliberating, the plaintiff settled her case with Campbell for $150,000. The jury returned a verdict of $518,000 — assigning 50 percent liability to each defendant.
The trial court entered judgment against Walters for $259,0000 — 50 percent of the jury verdict. The court concluded that the consolidated action was comprised of two separate, distinct torts, and the jury apportioned damages accordingly.
The Illinois appellate court affirmed, stating that the plaintiff did not sustain a “single, indivisible injury,” which is necessary to establish “joint and several liability” — the doctrine by which joint tortfesors are liable for the plaintiff’s entire injury, “allowing the plaintiff to pursue all, some, or one of the tortfeasors responsible for his injury for the full amount of the damages.” Coney v. J.L.G. Indus., 97 Ill.2d 104 (1983).
The appellate court stated that a jury may apportion separate injuries to the plaintiff among multiple tortfeasors. Further, multiple injuries to the same part of plaintiff’s body does not necessarily transform two injuries into one. In other words, the court found that one defendant should not be liable for the “distinct harm” caused by another defendant merely because it is difficult to apportion the damage.
Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s finding that the plaintiff’s injuries were separable, and the defendants were not jointly and severally liable for the injuries to the plaintiff.
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