Cases Pending Highlights Civil Cases to be Heard in Illinois Supreme Court's May Term

April 28, 2021 4:09 PM | Carson Griffis (Administrator)

The Illinois Supreme Court's May Term begins Tuesday, May 11, 2021.  Oral arguments are scheduled for May 11, 12, 13, 18 and 19, 2021.  A total of 16 cases will be heard -- 7 civil and  9 criminal.  The following civil cases are scheduled for argument this Term:

May 13, 2021

Haage v. Zavala, No. 125918

Guns Save Life, Inc. v. Ali, No. 126014

May 18, 2021

Western Illinois University v. The Illinois Education Labor Relations Board, No. 126082

Cahokia Unit School District No. 18 v. Pritzker, No. 126212

Board of Education of Richland School District No. 88A v. City of Crest Hill, No. 126444

May 19, 2021

Sproull v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., 126446

McQueen v. Pan-Oceanic Engineering Co., Inc., 126666

Below is a summary for one of those cases, McQueen v. Pan-Oceanic Engineering Co., Inc.  Summaries for this case and others pending in the Illinois Supreme Court can be found in our Cases Pending publication, available to ALA members on the ALA’s website.

McQueen v. Pan-Oceanic Engineering Co., Inc., No. 126666

This issue in this appeal is whether a jury verdict finding a truck driver not liable for an accident is legally inconsistent with a verdict holding his employer liable for the same accident.

Plaintiff Fletcher McQueen, who was injured in the accident with the defendant truck driver, sued both the driver and the driver’s employer, Pan-Oceanic Engineering Co., Inc. (“Pan-Oceanic”) for negligence and also alleged that Pan-Oceanic failed to properly train the driver.  Pan-Oceanic admitted liability for the driver under the theory of respondeat superior. The jury returned a verdict against Pan-Oceanic for $167,227.45 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages, but found the driver not negligent.  Pan-Oceanic filed a post-trial motion, seeking judgment n.o.v. and a new trial, due to several alleged errors in the jury instructions. The court denied the motion and rejected Pan-Oceanic’s argument that, because it admitted agency, its liability could not exceed that of the driver. The trial court explained that the allegations of negligence and willful and wanton conduct against Pan-Oceanic focused on fault attributable solely to Pan-Oceanic for its own conduct and the allegations of negligent training and supervision were a separate, nonderivative tort. The trial court also held that Pan-Oceanic waived its objection to certain jury instructions because it did not object at trial or tender an alternative instruction. Pan-Oceanic appealed.

The Illinois Appellate Court, First District, reversed and remanded the case for a new trial, finding errors in the jury instructions and holding that the verdicts were legally inconsistent.  The court explained that, under Illinois law, a plaintiff who is injured in a motor vehicle accident cannot maintain a claim for negligent hiring, negligent retention, or negligent entrustment against an employer where the employer admits responsibility for the conduct of the employee under respondeat superior. Gant v. L.U. Transport, Inc., 331 Ill. App. 3d 924 (1st Dist. 2002). A negligent entrustment claim is derivative of the employee’s negligence. The employer is responsible for all of the fault attributed to the negligent employee, but only the fault attributed to the negligent employee. As such, once an employer admits responsibility for its employee’s negligence, “then any liability alleged under an alternative theory, such as negligent entrustment or negligent hiring, becomes irrelevant and should properly be dismissed.”  The court declined to treat negligent training, as alleged in this case, differently from the other negligence claims that are barred once an employer admits liability under respondeat superior.  Accordingly, the appellate court held that the verdicts were irreconcilably inconsistent, and reversed and remanded for a new trial.

Justice Mikva dissented, arguing that Gant was inconsistent with other appellate court decisions (Longnecker v. Loyola University Medical Center, 383 Ill. App. 3d 874 (2008) and Neuhengen v. Global Experience Specialists, Inc., 2018 IL App (1st) 160322), holding that an independent claim of negligence may be maintained against an employer even after it admits that respondeat superior applies.  Justice Mikva also explained that the verdicts in this case could be reconciled because the jury was instructed on theories of the employer’s liability — that it failed to follow its own policies in placing the load on the truck and that it ordered the driver to take the load despite it being unsafe — that were independent of the driver’s conduct.

Appellate Court Decision:  2020 IL App (1st) 190202.  Connors, J., with Cunningham, J., concurring.  Mikva, P.J., dissenting.

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