It has long been law in Illinois that, “a judgment against two or more defendants, whether in contract or tort, was indivisible, and could neither be vacated by a trial court or reversed by a reviewing court as to one defendant alone, even though it was not erroneous as to the others, “ Chmielewski v. Marich, 2 Ill.2d 568 (1954).
CCIC covered $1 million in liability coverage to Dragon Fly Express and DeAn Henry, who were claimed to have caused the car crash that killed Sperl and Sanders, seriously injured William Taluc and injured several others. There was also a significant amount of property damage as a result of this collision.
CCIC realized that its insurance policy limits would not cover all of these claims that were filed against its insured, so it filed an interpleader action against the estates of the two who were killed and the more than 20 other defendants.
While the interpleader case remained open, the consolidated negligence claims filed by the estates and Taluc went to trial.
The defendants, Henry and Dragon Fly, reportedly admitted liability before the start of the trial. The jury decided that another defendant, C.H. Robinson Worldwide (CHR), was vicariously liable for the accident. The jury’s verdict was $7,250,000 for the Sperl estate and $8,750,000 for the Sanders estate and $7,775,000 for Taluc.
The jury’s verdict included $250,000 for each estate on survival claims that alleged that Sperl and Sanders endured conscious pain and suffering before they died. C.H. Robinson Worldwide (CHR) filed a post-trial motion. Henry and Dragon Fly did not.
On CHR’s motion, the trial judge vacated the survival awards ($250,000 to each of the estates) because the estates reportedly failed to present sufficient evidence that the decedents had any conscious pain or suffering.
Meanwhile, before and during the negligence trial, CCIC reportedly offered its $1 million policy to the estates. The insurance company repeated its offer shortly after the ruling on CHR’s post-trial motion. The estates allegedly rejected those offers.
The appeal brought by CHR was lost and it then paid the verdict minus the vacated survival awards. Then the estates tried to accept the old offers, but CCIC said it was too late. Finally the insurance company, CCIC, moved to voluntarily dismiss the estates from the interpleader case. The estates objected, stating they were necessary parties.
However, the trial judge granted CCIC‘s motion. The estates appealed, arguing that the survival awards against Henry and Dragon Fly remained valid.
“The estates’ assertion that they have legitimate claims to the disputed funds is based upon their contention that the survival awards ($250,000 for each estate) against Henry and Dragon Fly still stand because Henry and Dragon Fly did not file a post-trial motion to challenge those awards and because Henry and Dragon Fly are unable to reap the benefit of the post-trial motion that was filed by CHR to that effect, since the judgment in the underlying case is not treated as a single unit.”
CCIC argued that the trial judge’s ruling was proper and should be affirmed. CCIC asserted that the estates did not have a claim to the disputed funds because their judgments in the underlying case had been satisfied in full.
The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed that “despite the estates’ assertion that the broad application of the unit-judgment rule still applies, the Supreme Court made it clear in Chmielewski that the rule will no longer be applied in a broad manner.”
The court also stated that under Chmielewski, “when a judgment or decree against two or more defendants is vacated as to one of them, it need not for that reason alone be vacated as to any of the others, and should not be vacated as to any of the others unless it appears that because of an interdependence of the rights of the defendants or because of other special factors it would be prejudicial and inequitable to leave the judgment standing against them.” Id. at 576.
In conclusion, the Illinois Appellate Court stated, “This is the type of case where to leave the survival award standing against Henry and Dragon Fly would be prejudicial and inequitable.”
Under the common-law unit-judgment rule, a judgment against two or more joint defendants was indivisible and could not be vacated by a trial court or reversed by a reviewing court as to one of the defendants alone, even if the judgment was correct as to the other defendants.
The Illinois Supreme Court in the Chmielewski case abolished the broad application of the unit-judgment rule in favor of a case-by-case application.
The appellate court in this cause held, “We hold therefore, that when a judgment or decree against two or more defendants is vacated as to one of them, it need not for that reason alone be vacated as to any of the others, and should not be vacated as to any of the others unless it appears that because of the interdependence of the rights of the defendants or because of any other factors, it would be prejudicial and inequitable to leave the judgments standing against them.” Id. at 576.
The court stated that that being the rule in Illinois, in the present case the survival awards may not be vacated as to Henry and Dragon Fly merely because the awards were vacated as to CHR. Henry and Dragon Fly would still be obligated to satisfy the survival awards because of their failure to file a post-trial motion. See 735 ILCS 5/2-1203(a).
Nevertheless, to have the survival awards standing against Henry and Dragon Fly would be prejudicial and inequitable. Since the trial court found that the estates had not proved up conscious pain and suffering for the decedents prior to their deaths as is necessary for a survival award to stand, it would inequitable to hold Henry and Dragon Fly to that portion of the judgment when it was not proved at trial. Therefore, in closing the Illinois Appellate Court found that the survival awards as to Henry and Dragon Fly must be vacated in addition to CHR. Since the survival awards have been vacated, the judgments owing to the estates have been satisfied in full and the estates have no interest in the disputed funds. It was proper therefore for the trial judge to grant plaintiffs’ voluntary motion to dismiss the estates from the interpleader case as they no longer have an interest in the action.
Carolina Casualty v. Estate of Sperl, 2015 IL App (3d) 130294 (Jan. 27, 2015).
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling wrongful death lawsuits, car accident cases, bicycle accident cases and construction site accident cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Flossmoor, Antioch, Schaumburg, Schiller Park, Tinley Park, Inverness, Wheeling, Western Springs, Bolingbrook, Aurora, St. Charles, Elgin, Waukegan, Lake Bluff, Round Lake Beach, Chicago (Wicker Park, Rogers Park, Bucktown, Hegewisch, Marquette Park, Austin), Evanston, Des Plaines and Park Ridge, Ill.
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