By: Dodie O'Keefe
In Lewis v. Lead Industrial Ass'n, 2020 IL 124107, the Illinois Supreme Court found the plaintiffs did not suffer any economic loss to sustain their tort claim where the only costs they sought to recover had been paid in full by Medicaid.
Nearly two decades ago, the plaintiffs, a class of parents, filed a civil conspiracy claim against four companies that had previously manufactured lead paint (the defendants), to recover the economic costs of lead toxicity blood screenings underwent by their children as required by the Lead Poisoning Prevention Act (Act) (410 ILCS 45/1 et seq. (West 2000)). Lewis, 2020 IL 124107, ¶ 3.
The circuit court subsequently found that the plaintiffs, two of whom were Medicaid recipients, had suffered no economic injury to sustain their claims where the screening costs had been fully covered by Medicaid and where there was no other evidence of expenses incurred by the plaintiffs for the screenings. Id. ¶¶ 7-8. In reaching its conclusion, the circuit court rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments that they were nevertheless entitled to recover those costs because the State could seek reimbursement for any recovery they received, and furthermore, whether Medicaid had paid those costs had no bearing on their right to recovery under the collateral source rule. Id. Because the plaintiffs had neither suffered from economic loss or physical injury, the circuit court entered summary judgment in the defendants’ favor. Id.
On appeal, the appellate court reversed that judgment, finding the plaintiffs had alleged a valid claim for economic injury because they had incurred an obligation for the screening costs under the Rights of Married Person Act (Family Expense Act) (750 ILCS 65/15 (West 2000)), which codifies parental liability for the expenses of their minor children. See Lewis, 2018 IL App (1st) 172894, ¶¶ 10, 15. The appellate court also found that the collateral source rule precluded the diminution of the plaintiffs’ recoverable damages by the benefits received from Medicaid. Id. ¶¶ 12-13. The supreme court disagreed.
In its opinion, the supreme court held that the plaintiffs suffered no economic injury because they did not incur an obligation for the screening costs under the Family Expense Act since they were never indebted to the medical providers who conducted the screenings. Lewis, 2020 IL 124107, ¶¶ 37-38. The court also rejected plaintiffs’ argument that an obligation was created based on the State’s right of recoupment under section 11-22 of the Illinois Public Aid Code (305 ILCS 5/11-22 (West 2018)) for any recovery they received, noting that right may only be exercised against a judgment against the wrongdoer and not to seek repayment from the recipients. Id. ¶¶ 40-41. Last, the court held that because the plaintiffs in this case did not suffer an economic injury, the collateral source rule, which “prescribes the methodology of awarding damages,” was inapplicable. Id. ¶¶ 49, 52.
In sum, the supreme court reemphasized that essential to every cause of action is some injury or harm to a legal right suffered by the plaintiffs. Id. ¶ 29.