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Dept. of Law Enforcement v. Willis

OPINION FILED MAY 25, 1978.

THE DEPARTMENT OF LAW ENFORCEMENT, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

WILLIAM H. WILLIS, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Montgomery County; the Hon. WILLIAM SPITLER, Judge, presiding.

MR. PRESIDING JUSTICE EBERSPACHER DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied June 23, 1978.

This is an appeal by defendant, William H. Willis, from an order entered by the circuit court of Montgomery County granting a summary judgment in favor of plaintiff, Illinois Department of Law Enforcement (Department), and against Willis in the amount of $610.

On May 25, 1976, the Department brought the instant action pursuant to section 5(b) of the Workmen's Compensation Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 48, par. 138.5(b)) to recover the medical expenses paid by it on behalf of its employee, State Police Officer Leland Storm which allegedly resulted from the intentional assault and battery by Willis injuring Storm. On August 3, 1976, Willis filed an answer essentially denying the allegations of the Department's complaint.

On October 12, 1976, the Department moved for summary judgment alleging no genuine issue as to any material fact and that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Attached to its motion were the affidavits of Officer Storm and Montgomery County State's Attorney Kelly Long as well as certain certified court records. In his affidavit, Officer Storm stated that on July 6, 1974, he had arrested Willis for driving at an excessive speed and for driving while intoxicated. Following the arrest, Willis struck Storm in the face and escaped. Storm pursued Willis and overtook him at which time Willis again struck Storm. Storm stated that as a result of the injuries inflicted by Willis, Storm incurred certain necessary medical expenses totaling $610 which amount was paid by the Department under the Workmen's Compensation Act. Attached to this affidavit were copies of medical and dental receipts.

The affidavit of Kelly Long, who was an eyewitness to the escape and recapture of Willis, recounted the details thereof and further stated that as a result of the incident, Willis was charged with the offenses of aggravated battery, escape and resisting a peace officer to which charges Willis pleaded guilty. Certified copies of court records showed that Willis was convicted of these charges and duly sentenced.

Willis filed no counteraffidavit. However, on December 2, 1976, he filed a motion for a continuance for the purpose, in part, of filing a counteraffidavit. Also filed was an affidavit of defense counsel Richard Habiger of Prisoner's Legal Aid. In it, Habiger stated that the attorney assigned to supervise Willis' case had been ill, and that he himself had been unable to inquire into the facts of this case due to a heavy load of other cases. Further, Habiger stated that Willis told him that the injuries at issue were a result of Storm's own negligence.

On the same day Willis' motion for a continuance was filed, the lower court denied the motion and granted the Department's motion for summary judgment.

On appeal Willis contends that: (1) the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the instant cause under section 5(b) of the Workmen's Compensation Act; (2) alternatively, section 5(b) as applied violates due process, offends fundamental fairness, and is contrary to public policy; and (3) the trial court erred in granting summary judgment and in denying the motion for a continuance.

In support of his first contention, Willis asserts that the Department brought the instant action "for recovery of amounts paid by Plaintiff to its employee under the Workmen's Compensation Act, rather than for damages sustained by plaintiff's employee." Relying on the language of section 5(b) of the Workmen's Compensation Act, which under stated terms permits an employer to sue a third-party tort-feasor "for the recovery of damages" arising from the harm done to the employee, Willis concludes that the instant action falls outside the scope of the act and thus does not state a cause of action permitted by law.

• 1, 2 Such argument is specious. The instant action was brought to recover Storm's medical expenses which resulted from the alleged assault and battery committed by Willis, which amount was paid by the Department. Without so specifically stating, Willis now attempts to draw some distinction between these resulting medical expenses and the damages suffered by Storm. However, it is an elementary principle that in an action for personal injury, the reasonable medical expenses necessarily incurred as a result thereof are a part of the damages that may be recovered. (15 Ill. L. & Prac. Damages § 60 (1968).) That the only damages sought to be recovered were Storm's medical expenses and, presumably, the Department or Storm could have sought to recover other proper, additional damages but chose not to, does not place the instant action outside the statute.

Nor do we find merit to Willis' next assertion that he could be held doubly liable, both to the Department and to Storm. Under section 5(b) of the Act, the instant action was brought for the benefit of both the employer and employee and the judgment entered thereon was conclusive of the liability of Willis. Melohn v. Ganley, 344 Ill. App. 316, 100 N.E.2d 781.

• 3 Next, clothed in terms of due process, fundamental fairness and public policy, Willis contends that section 5(b) of the Act, as applied to the facts of the instant case, offends these principles in that it "chills" his "right to plead guilty to the criminal charges" arising from the instant occurrence, and in that it permits the State to have twice "punished" him in a "blatant attempt to enrich itself" thus offending, it is urged, "the appearance of justice."

We find this argument unpersuasive. Underlying the theory proposed by Willis are two aspects of the instant case; first, that Willis has been held criminally and civilly responsible for the same course of conduct; and secondly, ...


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