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Tyrken v. Tyrken

OPINION FILED AUGUST 1, 1978.

PELAGIA TYRKEN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

JOHN TYRKEN, ADM'R OF THE ESTATE OF SZYMON TYRKEN, DECEASED, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. LOUIS J. GILIBERTO, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE BROWN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff, Pelagia Tyrken, brought this action against the administrator of the estate of her deceased husband, for personal injuries resulting from a collision between the automobile in which she was riding and a passenger train. Her complaint alleged that her husband, who was driving the automobile and was killed in the collision, was guilty of wilful and wanton acts or omissions.

Defendant filed a motion to dismiss on the ground that the action was barred by the inter-spousal tort immunity provision of "An Act to revise the law in relation to husband and wife" (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 68, par. 1). On December 2, 1976, the trial court denied defendant's motion to dismiss, and made a finding that the order concerned a question of law as to which there was a substantial ground for difference of opinion and that an immediate appeal might materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation. On February 18, 1977, the trial court denied defendant's motion to vacate the order of December 2, 1976, and the defendant filed an application for leave to appeal under Supreme Court Rule 308 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 110A, par. 308). We allowed defendant's application for leave to appeal.

This appeal raises the following issues: (1) whether section 1 of "An Act to revise the law in relation to husband and wife" (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 68, par. 1) (hereafter "the Act") violates article I, section 12 of the 1970 Illinois Constitution because it denies a widow a remedy for injuries to her person; (2) whether the Act violates the plaintiff's constitutionally protected rights afforded by the due process clauses of the 1970 Illinois Constitution and the United States Constitution, and article I, section 18 of the 1970 Illinois Constitution because it is an unreasonable and arbitrary exercise of legislative power; (3) whether the Act violates the equal protection clauses of the 1970 Illinois Constitution and the United States Constitution because it discriminates against persons of the same class; and (4) whether the Act violates article IV, section 13 of the 1970 Illinois Constitution because it is special legislation.

Defendant argues that the law in Illinois with respect to inter-spousal immunity is well settled. Section 1 of the Act provides:

"A married woman may, in all cases, sue and be sued without joining her husband with her, to the same extent as if she were unmarried; provided, that neither husband nor wife may sue the other for a tort to the person committed during coverture." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1973, ch. 68, par. 1.)

This section has successfully withstood attacks on its constitutionality under both the 1870 Illinois Constitution and the 1970 Illinois Constitution. Heckendorn v. First National Bank (1960), 19 Ill.2d 190, 166 N.E.2d 571; Steffa v. Stanley (2d Dist. 1976), 39 Ill. App.3d 915, 350 N.E.2d 886.

Initially, plaintiff concedes that the Illinois Supreme Court, in a case arising under similar circumstances as those presented in this case, has held that the Act operates as an absolute bar against a widow suing her husband's estate for a tort committed during coverture (Heckendorn). Plaintiff argues, however, that the public policy of the State has been altered so drastically that a current judicial review of this issue will lead this court to the same conclusion reached by the trial court. We disagree.

While plaintiff is correct in noting that the broad doctrine of intrafamily immunity has suffered erosion since Heckendorn (Johnson v. Myers (2d Dist. 1972), 2 Ill. App.3d 844, 277 N.E.2d 778; Schenk v. Schenk (1st Dist. 1970), 100 Ill. App.2d 199, 241 N.E.2d 12; Augustine v. Stotts (4th Dist. 1963), 40 Ill. App.2d 428, 189 N.E.2d 757), the express statutory provision regarding inter-spousal immunity has remained firm. Steffa v. Stanley (2d Dist. 1976), 39 Ill. App.3d 915, 350 N.E.2d 886.

In this respect, plaintiff's reliance on Herget National Bank v. Berardi (1976), 64 Ill.2d 467, 356 N.E.2d 529, and Bradley v. Fox (1955), 7 Ill.2d 106, 129 N.E.2d 699, is misplaced. These cases involved the application of the Illinois Wrongful Death Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1975, ch. 70, par. 1), and presented the question of whether the administrator of a wife's estate could maintain an action against the husband's estate for loss suffered by a child through the death of the wife by the husband's wrongful conduct. The instant case, as well as Heckendorn, presents the question as to whether a wife has the right to bring an action for her own injuries against her husband's estate for a tort committed during coverture.

Similarly, the case of Packenham v. Miltimore (2d Dist. 1967), 89 Ill. App.2d 452, 232 N.E.2d 42, is factually distinguishable from the case at bar. The operative words of the Act concern torts "committed during coverture." In Packenham, the act of the husband occurred prior to the marriage, and the court, strictly construing the language of the statute, held that the Act did not apply in those circumstances. In the instant case, there is no question that the tortious act occurred during the marriage.

Plaintiff argues the Act violates article I, section 12 of the Illinois Constitution because it denies a widow a remedy for injuries to her person. This section provides:

"Every person shall find a certain remedy in the laws for all injuries and wrongs which he receives to her person, privacy, property or reputation. He shall obtain justice by law, freely, completely, and promptly." Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 12.

This argument was advanced in Heckendorn, and that court found it to be unpersuasive. In construing the predecessor of article I, section 12 of the ...


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