Illinois Appellate Court Refuses to Reverse Trial Court Who Stayed the Contribution Claim Brought by Defendants

Richard Cholipski sued three contractors in Chicago for injuries he claimed that he suffered in a construction accident. Defendants requested and received permission to file a contribution claim three years after Cholipski’s lawsuit was filed. They accused in their contribution action that Cholipski’s physician was guilty of medical malpractice, thus increasing or causing Cholipski’s claimed injuries. But because the trial on Cholipski’s negligence complaint was scheduled to start in five months, the presiding judge granted the plaintiff’s request to stay the contribution part of the case while allowing the case in chief to proceed to trial.

The defendants appealed, arguing that the judge abused her discretion and the stay violated the “principles” of the case of Laue v. Leifheit, 105 Ill.2d 191 (1984), which interpreted Section 5 of the Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Act as providing that, “When there is a pending action, the contribution claim should be asserted by counterclaim or by third-party claim in that action.”

The appellate court rejected the first argument stating that if it accepted the defendants’ argument, it would not allow for a plaintiff to have a speedy resolution of his or her lawsuit, but instead would allow the defendant to wait three years and then bring a contribution claim against the treating physician, delaying the case in a way that brings pressure on the plaintiff to settle.

As for the Laue case, the Illinois Appellate Court 1st District stated, “There is no hard and fast rule about joint trials, but rather a policy preference for a joint trial, which is still left up to the trial court’s discretion to weigh among other factors.”

The defendants argued that the appellate court had jurisdiction pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 307(a)(1), which provides: “An appeal may be taken to the Appellate Court from an interlocutory order of court: (1) granting, modifying, refusing, dissolving or refusing to dissolve or modify an injunction.”

Although Supreme Court Rule 307(a)(1) does not use the word “stay,” the Supreme Court has previously held that Rule 307 does give jurisdiction to reduce stays of arbitration and administrative orders. Both parties to this case agreed that a trial court’s decision to issue or deny a stay is within a trial judge’s discretion. The defendants here argued that the alleged negligence in the workplace was a significant and wholly separate issue from the doctor’s alleged medical malpractice.

Even if the doctor was guilty of medical negligence, the malpractice would unlikely be dispositive of the entire case since the doctor would not have treated the plaintiff in the first place, but for the accident that caused plaintiff’s original injury. In contrast, the resolution of plaintiff’s negligence claim has the potential of being completely dispositive of the entire case because if defendants are not found to be negligent, there is no need to address their contribution claim against plaintiff’s treating physician.

Accordingly, the Illinois Appellate Court held that it could not find that the trial judge acted arbitrarily by issuing a stay of defendants’ contribution claim.

The appellate court found that a trial judge did not abuse its discretion by severing a third-party medical malpractice claim from the underlying negligence case for the purposes of trial. Ryan v. E.A.I. Construction Corp., 158 Ill.App.3d 449 (1987).

In this case, the appellate panel said that the trial judge should have denied completely defendants’ motion for leave to file a third-party complaint. Instead of doing this, the trial court chose a middle path, permitting defendants to file their third-party complaint but staying their medical malpractice claim in order to allow plaintiff to have a timely resolution of his negligence claims. There was no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s choice of a middle ground.

Lastly the court concluded — in reference to the Laue decision — that there is no hard and fast rule about joint trials, but rather a policy preference for a joint trial, which is still left up to the trial court’s discretion to weigh among other factors. The appellate court did not find the defendants’ argument persuasive and found that the trial judge did not abuse her discretion by issuing the stay order.

Cholipski v. Bovis Lend Lease, 2014 IL App (1st) 132842 (July 25, 2014).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling work injury cases, car accident cases, truck accident cases, motorcycle accident cases and nursing home abuse 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 Schaumburg, Schiller Park, Hinsdale, Flossmoor, Arlington Heights, Rosemont, Inverness, Naperville, Antioch, Evanston, Tinley Park, Romeoville, Richton Park and Lyons, Ill.

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