Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Thomas
J. O'Brien, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE LORENZ DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Plaintiff appeals from a judgment which dismissed its cause of action for contribution from an alleged joint tortfeasor, and we are presented with two questions of law.
1. Can a tortfeasor who settles a claim filed against it by the employee of a third-party obtain contribution from the employer under "An Act in relation to contribution among joint tortfeasors" (the Contribution Act) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 70, par. 301 et seq.) even though the employer is immunized from common law and statutory liability to the employee under section 5(a) of the Workers' Compensation Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 48, par. 138.5(a))?
2. Under sections 2(c) and (e) of the Contribution Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 70, pars. 302(c), (e)), is it possible for a release given to a named tortfeasor to extinguish the liability of an alleged tortfeasor who is not specifically named in the release?
The answer to the first question is no, and the answer to the second question is yes. We accordingly affirm in part and reverse in part.
The following allegations are taken from the complaint and are material to our decision.
On March 14, 1980, there was a multivehicle collision on the Dan Ryan Expressway involving trucks owned and operated by plaintiff (Lake Motor Freight, Inc.) and defendant (Randy Trucking, Inc.). Among the individuals injured by this accident were Martin R. McGovern, an employee of Randy Trucking, and Robert A. Brudnicki, the operator of a third vehicle. Brudnicki and McGovern filed negligence actions against plaintiff, and these claims were settled, respectively, for $7,500 and $24,500.
In settling their claims, Brudnicki and McGovern each signed a release which states, in part, that the sums listed above were paid by plaintiff "to the undersigned and their attorney by or on behalf of all other persons, firms or corporations liable or who might be claimed to be liable or who may have contributed as a cause to any injuries which are the subject matter of this release including Lake Motor Freight, Inc. * * *."
The complaint further alleges that one of the causes of the accident was defendant's negligence, and it seeks recovery "for all amounts paid in settlement above [plaintiff's] pro rata share of liability."
Ruling on a defense motion, the circuit court entered a judgment dismissing the cause of action on the ground that "Lake Motor Freight, Inc., does not have a right of contribution against Randy Trucking, Inc., since the releases executed by Martin McGovern and Robert Brudnicki do not extinguish the liability of Randy Trucking, Inc."
• 1 Defendant initially argues that it is not liable to plaintiff under the Contribution Act for the settlement with its employee, McGovern, because, by operation of section 5(a) of the Workers' Compensation Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 48, par. 138.5), it is not "subject to liability in tort" for McGovern's injuries — a precondition to liability under the Contribution Act. (See Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 70, par. 302(a).) For the reasons given below, we agree with defendant.
When an employee's injury is compensable under the Workers' Compensation Act, section 5(a) of the Act provides that the employee has "[n]o common law or statutory right to recover damages from the employer * * *." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1981, ch. 48, par. 138.5(a).) However, the supreme court held, in Skinner v. Reed-Prentice Division Package Machinery Co. (1977), 70 Ill.2d 1, 374 N.E.2d 437, that when an employee is injured by joint tortfeasors and one of the tortfeasors files an action seeking contribution from the employer, "The fact that the employee's action against the employer is barred by the Workmen's Compensation Act (Ill. Rev. ...