A man who caused a three-car crash while driving under the
influence of cocaine on Interstate 88 near Naperville, and later settled with a
woman severely injured in the crash, cannot be reintroduced into the woman’s
lawsuit to diffuse responsibility from other defendants in ensuing litigation, a state appeals
court has ruled, rejecting assertions the driver’s DUI conviction indicated his
actions that caused the crash were intentional, rather than merely negligent.
According to court documents, Daniel Rodriguez caused the 2013
crash when he made an illegal U-turn on I-88, crashing into a vehicle headed in
the opposite direction and causing a tractor-trailer following that vehicle to
collide with it as well. The passenger in the struck vehicle was severely and
permanently injured, and sued Rodriguez, as well as Karl Browder, the driver of
the tractor-trailer, and others. Rodriguez pleaded guilty to a criminal charge
of aggravated driving under the influence of drugs and was sentenced to seven
years in prison. He also settled with the injured woman for $20,000, the limit
of his insurance policy.
Browder, his employer, the owner of the tractor-trailer and
their insurance companies also sued Rodriguez for contribution, and appealed the
trial court’s decision to dismiss him from the original suit after he settled
with the plaintiff. The court also barred any claim for contribution from
Rodriguez’s co-defendants, though it did allow them the right to credit the
$20,000 toward any future judgment against them.
Their appeal focused on the trial court’s finding that the
settlement was entered in good faith. The co-defendants argued that Rodriguez’s
actions were intentional, not negligent, and that the court failed to consider
their rights as defendants, who should be considered less than 25 percent at
fault for the crash and the woman’s injuries.
In an opinion issued Jan. 17, a three-justice panel of the
Illinois First District Appellate Court cited case law that states a settlement
is not in good faith if the settling parties engaged in wrongful conduct,
collusion or fraud, which it said did not happen in this case. It also pointed
out that settlements “are not designed to benefit non-settling third parties.”
Quoting the 1996 Illinois Third District Appellate decision in Muro v. Abel Freight Lines Inc., the
court wrote: “If the position of a non-settling defendant is worsened by the
terms of a settlement, this is the consequence of a refusal to settle.”
The co-defendants argued the trial court should have taken
their rights into consideration before granting the good faith finding. To
support this contention, they cited a section of the Code of Civil Procedure
that states a plaintiff cannot receive full nonmedical damages from a plaintiff
found to be less than 25 percent responsible for her injuries.
The appellate justices, however, shot down that argument,
saying that section of the code addresses apportioning damages after trial, and
does not apply to a settlement agreement.
The co-defendants argued that Rodriguez’s guilty plea to
criminal charges is evidence that his actions were intentional, rather than
negligent. While a finding that the acts were intentional would prevent a
good-faith settlement, the court was not convinced that was the case. Justices said
they did not believe the case law the co-defendants cited addressed the base
question: Whether a finding of good faith can be barred for intentionality if
the claim is brought through a counterclaim instead of by the plaintiff
“We need not and indeed cannot make the determination that
the Browder co-defendants seek based on the facts before us,” the appellate
court wrote. “A counterclaim is ‘an independent cause of action, separate from
The opinion was authored by Justice Michael B. Hyman, with
justices P. Scott Neville Jr. and Mary Anne Mason concurring.
According to Cook County court records, Browder and the other
co-defendants were represented in the action by attorneys with the firm of
Cuisinier & Farahvar Ltd., of Chicago.
The plaintiff in the original lawsuit was
represented by the firm of Morici Figlioli & Associates, of Chicago.