Truck Co. Can’t Slash $54M Loss For Driver’s Road Rage Past

An Illinois appellate court on Tuesday affirmed a $54 million verdict against a trucking company that hired a driver with a history of road rage and accidents and whom a jury found responsible for a 2011 car crash that caused serious injuries to an Indiana couple.

The court said the award, which included $35 million in punitive damages, wasn’t excessive given evidence the jury heard about the driver’s record. Universal Am-Can Ltd. employed David Lee Johnson despite being aware he was convicted of nine traffic-related offenses in addition to four counts of felony reckless aggravated assault for attempting to break the headlights of a vehicle that had been tailgating him, the panel said.

The jury followed Indiana law when it found the company’s “willful and wanton misconduct” warranted substantial punitive damages for plaintiff James Denton, who had been seriously injured in the crash, the panel found.

“The jury was presented with extensive evidence regarding Johnson’s history prior to applying at UACL, as well as UACL’s internal safety policies. Despite Johnson’s history, UACL nevertheless hired him, even though doing so violated its own company policies,” the appellate court said.

It’s not the first time Illinois’ First District Appellate Court has considered this lawsuit. The court previously held in 2015 that the substantive law of Indiana, not Illinois, should govern the case, according to the opinion. The court’s prior ruling mandated that Indiana law as it related to several liabilities would be applied at trial and that the name of another driver, George Kallis, would be on the verdict form.

The trucking company had argued that the “sole protagonist” in the case is Kallis, contending it was his actions that caused the accident and Denton’s injuries. According to court documents, Kallis was driving the wrong way on an interstate highway in Indiana, causing other vehicles to swerve off the road, when Johnson, who was driving with a suspended license at the time, crashed into Denton and pushed the man’s Jeep into the fuel tank of another semitruck,

In the court’s earlier ruling, the trucking company got exactly what it asked for, in that it was “allowed to argue, albeit unsuccessfully, that the accident was caused entirely by Kallis’ negligence in driving the wrong way on the interstate,” the panel said. It just wasn’t able to prove that any of Kallis’ conduct was a proximate cause of Denton’s injuries, it said.

“Simply put, the jury’s finding of zero percent fault on kallis’ part, reflects its belief that James was injured as a result of the conduct of defendants owing to the negligent operation of the semitractor trailer truck and the willful and wanton retention of an obviously unqualified and dangerous over-the road truck driver,” the appellate court said.

Denton underwent nine surgeries as a result of his injuries from the accident, including spinal fusions, and he now has a prosthetic metal knee, according to court documents. He also has to regularly take opioid medication to manage chronic pain.

The court also scolded the company for a “flagrant disregard” for Illinois Supreme Court rules, saying even a casual reader of the defendants’ statement of facts would find it “chockablock with argumentative, conclusory allegations like this: ‘[t]here is nothing in Johnson’s driving history that would suggest he was a dangerous truck driver.””

Their “overly emphatic and inarguably hyperbolic” brief failed to include the applicable standards of review for the issues raised on appeal, the court said, and when such a standard was provided, it was erroneous,

“We reemphasize that this court is not a repository into which appellants may foist the burden of argument and legal research,” the panel said.

Judges Terrence Lavin, James Fitzgerald Smith, and Mary Ellen Coghlan sat on the panel for the appellate court.

Denton is represented by Robert J. Napleton of Motherway & Napleton LLP, Christopher T. Theisen, and James M. Roche of Theisen & Roche and Lynn D. Dowd of the Law Offices of Lynn D. Dowd.

Universal is represented by Carlton D. Fisher and Stephen R. Swofford of Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP and Morley Witus and Kevin M. Aoun of Barris Sott Denn & Driker PLLC.

The case is Denton v. Universal Am-Can Ltd. et al., case number 1-18-1525, in the Appellate Court of Illinois, First District.

‘Justice delayed is justice denied’

Although the closure of Illinois’s civil courthouses has caused a delay in court proceedings, it has not prevented the attorneys and staff at Theisen & Roche from working tirelessly for our clients.

At Theisen & Roche, we are dedicated to providing justice and relief to the Chicago community in accordance with Covid-19 restrictions. We believe justice is too important to simply be put on hold. Therefore, during this pandemic, we are utilizing all our technological resources to consult clients through the legal process in the safety of their own homes.

Once our state decides it’s safe to open civil courthouses again, our law firm is ready and eager to fight to protect your rights and achieve the best resolution possible for you.

Theisen & Roche Nationally Recognized for Auto Personal Injury Ruling

Theisen & Roche, Ltd. is being featured in a publication put out by VerdictSearch focused on the Top 100 Verdicts of 2017. The $54 million verdict the lawyers obtained on behalf of a client who had suffered from a rear-end collision was the 31st highest verdict in all of the United States in 2017.

In addition to being ranked #31 of the top 100 nationally, the verdict was the sixth highest in Illinois for the year. According to another publication, the Jury Verdict Reporter, it is also higher than any Illinois auto personal injury verdict previously reported.

Two New Acts Amend the Code of Civil Procedure in Illinois

Governor Pat Quinn signed SB 2221 and SB 3075 into law on Friday, December 19. Both bills will be effective beginning June 1, 2015.

SB 2221, now Public Act 98-1131, amends the Code of Civil Procedure by removing the 10-year statute of repose for causes of action related to exposure to asbestos only. Victims that suffer injuries and diseases would no longer be denied access to justice solely due to the latent nature of their injuries. Illinois Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA) President John D. Cooney testified in both chambers on this bill. SB 2221 was sponsored in the Senate by Senator Kwame Raoul. Representative Elaine Nekritz sponsored the bill in the House.

SB 3075, now Public Act 98-1132, amends the Counties Code and the Code of Civil Procedure regarding jury service in Illinois. Specifically, the bill does the following:

  • Increases the minimum payment for jury service to $25 for the first day and $50 for subsequent days.
  • Offsets part of the proposed increase in payment for jury service by removing the current requirement that counties pay for the travel expenses of jurors, and by cutting the number of jurors in civil cases from 12 to 6. The amendment also requires the parties to pay for alternate jurors.
  • Mirrors federal law and that of many states by reducing the size of civil juries from 12 to 6 in Illinois. The requirement of unanimous decision is unchanged.

SB 3075 was sponsored in the Senate by Senator John Mulroe. Representative Kelly Burke sponsored the bill in the House.

Section 2301 Enacts New Rules for Civil Settlements in Illinois, Affecting Defendants and Insurers

Governor Quinn signed Public Act 098-0548, amending the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure, on August 26, 2013, which took effect on January 1, 2014.

The new statute, 735 ILCS 5/2-2301, or better known as Section 2301, addresses settlements and liens in civil cases by providing deadlines for exchanging settlement documents and payment after a civil matter is settled. Furthermore, Section 2301 imposes penalties upon defendants, such as the entry of judgement and costs if the defendant fails to provide the settlement draft within 30 days of the receipt of certain settlement documents.

This new law applies to cases involving personal injury, property damage, wrongful death and tort actions that involve claims for money actions. The statute does not apply to class action lawsuits, and exempts certain entities, including the State of Illinois, state agencies, state employees, municipalities and local governments.

Click here to read the full article.

Legislative Alert: Governor Quinn Signs SB 1912 into law (Now Public Act 98-548)


Governor Quinn Signs SB 1912 into law (Now Public Act 98-548)

Public Act 98-548 seeks to ensure timely payment of settlements by setting reasonable deadlines. It allows ample time for preparation of documents including the necessary releases and finalization or protection of liens. If payment is not made within the statutory period, the court, after a hearing, can enter a judgment for the plaintiff on the settlement amount plus costs of obtaining the judgment and statutory interest already applicable to judgments.

Effective date is January 1, 2014.

Public Act 98-548 was sponsored by Senator Kwame Raoul and Representative Elgie Sims.

Click here for a full text of the legislation.

Stephen D. Phillips, President
Illinois Trial Lawyers Association

Legislative Alert: Governor Quinn Signs SB 1898 into law. Now Public Act 98-519


Governor Quinn Signs SB 1898 into law. Now Public Act 98-519.

Public Act 98-519, which was backed by ITLA, amends the Illinois vehicle code. SB 1898 includes the following provisions:

Public Act 98-519 increases the minimum mandatory coverage amounts for liability insurance policies in this State and increases the amounts sufficient to satisfy a judgment following a motor vehicle accident as follows: bodily injury or death to any one person from $20,000 to $25,000; bodily injury or death to more than one person from $40,000 to $50,000; and injury or destruction of property of others from $15,000 to $20,000. Effective January 1, 2015.

Public Act 98-519 was sponsored by Senator Daniel Biss and Representative Laura Fine.

Click here for a full text of the legislation.