Illinois Appellate Court Affirms Good Faith Settlement of Third Party

On Sept. 24, 2006, the car being driven by Keisha Geans, who was driving while under the influence of alcohol, crashed into a concrete barrier, overturned and collided with the Miranda family car. Marco Miranda, who was 12, was left permanently disabled after suffering a serious brain injury. Geans’ blood alcohol level was .229, which is almost three times the legal limit.  Geans pleaded guilty to fourth-degree aggravated driving under the influence. The Miranda family sued for their injuries.

On Dec. 12, 2008, Universal Insurance Co., Geans’ insurer, paid the Miranda family the policy limits of $20,000. In return, the Miranda family released all claims against Geans and Universal. After the settlement was finalized, the Miranda family then filed an amended complaint adding the Walsh Group, a construction company. That was filed on Nov. 29, 2010. The Miranda family sued Walsh for negligence, alleging that the concrete barrier it placed on the side of the road was done negligently and was a contributing cause of the crash.

The Miranda family also then sued for contribution  against Geans, alleging that Geans’ driving was a proximate cause of Marco Miranda’s injuries. Geans moved to dismiss claiming that the settlement had ended any liability as to her.

The court agreed with Geans noting that the settlement was made in good faith. In addition, the court pointed out that the policy limits of Geans’ insurance was paid and there was no additional personal assets and no evidence was presented suggesting collusion or fraud in negotiating and arriving at the settlement.

The court granted the motion for involuntary dismissal of Geans. Walsh, now appearing as the sole defendant, appealed. It argued that the circuit court abused its discretion because the likely recovery against Walsh would be significantly higher than the $20,000 settlement with Geans. Walsh argued that it would suffer undue prejudice because Geans would no longer be listed on the jury verdict form to apportion fault. 

Last, Walsh argued that the trial court’s decision effectively rewarded Geans for her drunken driving. The appellate court disagreed with those arguments. The only limitation legally placed on the settlement is the good faith limitation, which the circuit court determined was met. The appellate court found that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion because of the low possibility of recovering any more money from Geans and the lack of any evidence of wrongful conduct by Geans, Universal or the Miranda family in reaching their settlement.

Walsh argued that excluding Geans meant that Walsh would be subject to greater exposure as the jury would not have Geans available to apportion the majority of the fault.

There was a dissent filed in this case stating that the trial court had to balance two public policies:  The encouragement of settlements and the equitable apportionment of damages among tortfeasors.

Although the dissent pointed out that Walsh may be subject to a disproportionately larger verdict for the Miranda family even if its culpability was very small, the appellate court at large disagreed. It concluded that if the jury found Walsh disproportionately liable, the proper time to challenge that decision was not before the jury heard the case, but rather after the damages were allocated, presuming they were excessive. Accordingly, the majority of the appellate court affirmed the decision of the trial court dismissing Geans from the lawsuit.

D. Walsh Group, Ltd. and Walsh Construction Co. v. Keisha A. Geans, No. 2013 IL App. (1st) 122674.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling cases resulting from automobile accidents, truck accidents, bicycle accidents and motorcycle accidents for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 37 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Lockport, Itasca, Homewood, Flossmoor, Glen Ellyn, Forest Park, Chicago Ridge, Crystal Lake, Lake Bluff, Bloomingdale, Rosemont, Evergreen Park, Chicago (Wrigleyville, West Loop, Uptown, Ukrainian Village, Rogers Park, Printers Row, Little Italy, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, East Village, Bucktown) and Maywood, Ill.

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