Illinois Supreme Court Considers Good Faith Settlements Under the Illinois Contribution Act

In this semi-tractor-trailer crash, the plaintiff, Angela Antonicelli, was a passenger in a vehicle traveling on Illinois Interstate 88.  Three lanes were closed for construction. Karl Browder was operating a semi-tractor and trailer traveling behind Antonicelli’s car.

The truck driver, Daniel Juan Rodriguez, was under the influence of cocaine and made an improper U-turn through the median and collided with Antonicelli’s vehicle, causing it to rotate.

The trucker, Browder, was unable to stop his semi-tractor and trailer and slammed into the Antonicelli vehicle.

Antonicelli suffered a severe permanent injury. Rodriguez entered a guilty plea to a charge of aggravated driving while under the influence of drugs; he acknowledged fault.

Antonicelli sued and entered into a settlement agreement with Rodriguez for the policy limits of $20,000. Rodriguez sought a finding of good faith, informing the court that the insurance policy was his only material asset.

The non-settling Browder defendants filed a counterclaim for contribution against Rodriguez alleging that his conduct was intentional rather than negligent under the Illinois Contribution Act (740 ILCS 100/2).

The trial judge granted the Rodriguez finding of a good-faith settlement and dismissal allowing Browder defendants to credit $20,000 against any future judgment and, most important, remain of the jury verdict form as non-settling defendants. The non-settling defendants admitted their sole purpose in objecting to the settlement of good faith was so that the settling defendant would remain on the verdict form.

The Illinois Contribution Act “promotes settlement by providing the defendant who enters a good-faith settlement with the plaintiff is discharged from any contribution liability to a non-settling defendant.” BHI Corp. v. Litgen Concrete Cutting & Coring Co., 214 Ill.2d 356, 365 (2005).

The Contribution Act ensures equitable apportionment of damages among tortfeasors by creating a right of contribution among defendants and “by providing that the amount that the plaintiff recovers on a claim against any other non-settling tortfeasors will be reduced or set off by the amount stated in the settlement agreement.” BHI Corp., 2014 Ill.2d at 365.

In this case, the court relied on the BHI decision and the principles that were proffered and thus the court rejected the non-settling defendants’ argument that the trial court must compare the fault among the settling and non-settling defendants before it can make a finding of good faith.

The burden of proving the absence of good faith is on the party challenging the settlement.  Johnson v. United Airlines, 203 Ill.2d 121, 135 (2003). The settling parties have the initial burden of making a preliminary showing of good faith under the Illinois Contribution Act. This initial burden is met with proof of a legally valid settlement agreement. The non-settling defendants must then prove the absence of good faith by a preponderance of the evidence.

In Antonicelli, the Illinois Supreme Court agreed that there was no such evidence that would have disallowed the good-faith settlement.  Antonicelli negotiated the settlement for the defendants’ insurance policy limits. There was no evidence that this plaintiff and the first defendant engaged in any wrongful conduct, collusion or fraud.

The Illinois Supreme Court concluded that to make a determination as to each defendant’s fault before finding that a settlement agreement was made in good faith would be impracticable and would defeat the Contribution Act’s purpose of encouraging settlement in the absence of bad faith, fraud or collusion.

Because the non-settling defendants failed to meet their burden in showing that the settlement was not made in good faith, the Illinois Supreme Court found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it granted the motion for a good-faith settlement finding under Section 2 of the Contribution Act.

Angela Antonicelli v. Daniel Rodriguez, 2018 IL 121943 (Feb. 16, 2018).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois jury trials, catastrophic injury lawsuits, wrongful death cases, birth trauma injury cases and tractor-trailer crash cases for individuals, families and loved ones who have been injured, harmed or killed by the negligence or carelessness of another for more than 40 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Romeoville, Bolingbrook, Elgin, Aurora, Geneva, Wheaton, Naperville, Rosemont, River Grove, Inverness, Long Grove, Chicago (Wicker Park, Hyde Park, UIC, Wrigleyville, Lakeview, Lincoln Square, South Shore, Woodlawn), Barrington, Bensenville, Calumet City, Blue Island, Alsip and Worth, Ill.

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