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Antal v. Taylor





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Macon County; the Hon. Donald W. Morthland, Judge, presiding.


Rehearing denied October 1, 1986.

Plaintiff, Doris Antal, appeals from an order of the circuit court of Macon County dismissing her personal injury complaint.

Plaintiff filed suit against Mattie L. Taylor, and defendant Taylor filed an answer and a counterclaim against plaintiff's husband, Tibor Antal, who had been driving plaintiff's car at the time of the accident. Defendant Taylor then filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground that plaintiff had executed a release which was a bar to any cause of action against defendant. By agreement of the parties, the issue of the legal effect of plaintiff's general release was submitted to the trial court on the pleadings, affidavits, and plaintiff's discovery deposition.

According to the record on appeal, on December 23, 1982, plaintiff was a passenger in the front seat of her car, which was being driven by her then fiance, Tibor Antal, in Decatur. A car driven by defendant, Mattie L. Taylor, made a left turn in front of plaintiff's car, causing a collision in which plaintiff was thrown forward. She struck her forehead on the rearview mirror and hit her knees against the glove compartment. Plaintiff did not seek medical treatment at the time of the accident, and although she had a headache and bruised knees, she was able to continue her employment as a laborer at Archer Daniels Midland, where her work involved shoveling wet beans into a wheelbarrow and wheeling the load to another part of the plant. The headache and other body pain went away after two or three days.

About two weeks later, plaintiff's work assignment was changed, and she began painting the inside of an industrial building. The work required a lot of overhead painting and reaching. She began to notice stiffness in her right shoulder and neck which she at first attributed to the change in her work. Gradually she began to experience some pain in addition to the stiffness, and near the end of February she reported that pain to her family physician during an appointment to seek treatment for bronchitis. Her doctor told her she was probably overworked, and he gave her a shot of a vitamin.

Her pain worsened, and on March 1, 1983, she saw an orthopedist who ordered a cervical collar and cervical traction treatments. After three weeks, he told her she did not need any more treatment. She then began to have numbness in her right hand and fingers, and so she returned to her family physician. He hospitalized plaintiff and referred her to an orthopedic surgeon who diagnosed a ruptured disc requiring surgery. Plaintiff underwent a laminectomy on April 21, 1983. She incurred doctor and hospital bills totaling $5,850 and missed five months' work.

At the time of the accident, plaintiff's car was substantially damaged. Defendant pleaded guilty to a traffic charge arising out of the accident, and plaintiff requested defendant's insurance company to pay for the damage to her car. About February 4, 1983, while plaintiff's car was still in the garage, she was presented with a general release to sign in return for payment of $2,412.29, the exact amount of her car-repair bill. She and her husband to be read the release and discussed the fact that she would not be able to pay for her car repairs and recover the use of her car until both she and Tibor had signed the release. They decided to sign it.

The printed form recited:

"It is expressly understood and agreed that this release and settlement is intended to cover and does cover not only all known injuries, losses and damages but any future injuries, losses and damages not now known or anticipated but which may later develop or be discovered, including all the effects and consequences thereof * * *."

In her deposition, plaintiff stated that she had understood that the release applied only to the damage to her car and that it was not her intention to release possible personal injury claims as well. She also said that she did not know that the stiffness and soreness in her shoulder and arm were the result of the accident until she saw the orthopedist on March 1, 1983.

The trial court found that plaintiff failed to establish either a mutual mistake of fact or fraud, that both plaintiff and defendant knew that the plaintiff had pain after the accident, that plaintiff failed to seek medical attention after the accident and prior to the execution of her release, that she and her husband to be both read the release prior to signing it, and that plaintiff failed to exercise reasonable care or diligence in discerning the nature of her injury. The court then granted defendant's motion to dismiss. Plaintiff has appealed.

For the purpose of this appeal, there is no question concerning defendant's liability. The sole issue is whether the release should be a bar to plaintiff's cause of action. Plaintiff contends that the trial court's finding of no mutual mistake of fact by the parties as to the existence and extent of plaintiff's injuries was contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence and that the trial court erred in permitting as unconscionable hardship to the injured party.

• 1 Illinois courts have had many occasions to consider the question of setting aside releases allegedly based on a mistake of fact concerning the nature and extent of the injuries suffered by the plaintiff in a personal injury suit. Many of those cases were summarized in Meyer v. Murray (1979), 70 Ill. App.3d 106, 387 N.E.2d 878, where the court discussed the tension between a policy of encouraging the settlement of personal injury ...

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