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Johnson v. Village of Libertyville

OPINION FILED AUGUST 13, 1986.

MICHAEL W. JOHNSON, ADM'R OF THE ESTATE OF KATHLEEN ANN JOHNSON, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,

v.

THE VILLAGE OF LIBERTYVILLE ET AL., DEFENDANTS (CONDELL MEMORIAL HOSPITAL, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County; the Hon. John L. Hughes, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE SCHNAKE DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Rehearing denied September 23, 1986.

On October 11, 1983, at about 9 a.m. Kathleen Johnson was driving on Outer Drive near Route 21 in the village of Vernon Hills. Sandra Pierce, a police officer for the village of Libertyville, was driving her police car southbound on Route 21 near its intersection with Outer Drive. Pierce was engaged in a high-speed chase of Janice Holt, a patient who shortly before had left Condell Memorial Hospital in Libertyville without approval. At the intersection Pierce's car ran into Johnson's vehicle, and Johnson sustained serious injuries which resulted in her death.

Plaintiff, the husband of the decedent and the administrator of her estate, filed suit against Holt, Officer Pierce, the village of Libertyville, and Condell Memorial Hospital (hereinafter Condell). At issue in this appeal is the sufficiency of the counts of plaintiff's first amended complaint against Condell. The trial court dismissed those counts under section 2-615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 110, par. 2-615), and pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 304(a) (87 Ill.2d R. 304(a)) found that there was no just reason for delaying enforcement or appeal of the dismissal.

Plaintiff's first amended complaint included three counts against Condell. Counts V and XI were brought under the Survival Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 110 1/2, par. 27-6) and sought damages related to decedent's personal injuries up to the time of her death. Count V sought compensatory damages and alleged that decedent's injuries were proximately caused by Condell's negligence. Count XI sought both compensatory and punitive damages and alleged that Condell's behavior amounted to wilful and wanton misconduct. Count VI was brought under the Wrongful Death Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 70, par. 1 et seq.) and sought compensatory damages resulting from decedent's death. It alleged that her death was proximately caused by Condell's negligence.

The facts stated in support of each of the three counts are essentially the same. It is alleged that, shortly before the fatal collision, Holt was a patient at Condell. It is further alleged that Condell either knew or should have known that Holt suffered from mental disorders and drug addiction, and that she had propensities toward violence and flight from authorities. The first amended complaint also avers that Holt was a "person subject to involuntary admission" at Condell or another appropriate facility under section 1-119 of the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 91 1/2, par. 1-119), and that Condell in fact attempted to restrain her. Plaintiff alleges, however, that Condell failed to have Holt involuntarily admitted pursuant to the Code, and that, in fact, Condell allowed her to have access to a dangerous weapon and her car keys. Plaintiff also avers that Condell provided inadequate security in its parking lot to prevent Holt from getting into her car. When Holt left the hospital, Condell summoned the police to pursue her. It was during the resulting pursuit that the fatal collision occurred. Plaintiff alleges that Condell's failure to prevent Holt from fleeing in her car constituted either negligence (counts V and VI) or wilful and wanton misconduct (count XI), and that such failure proximately resulted in decedent's injuries and death.

The trial court dismissed the counts against Condell because it concluded that, under the facts alleged, Condell did not owe a duty of care to plaintiff's decedent, and even if it did, Condell's failure to prevent Holt from leaving the hospital in her car was not the proximate cause of the collision. The court also concluded that the claim for punitive damages in count XI should be dismissed because such a claim abates at the death of the injured person.

• 1 Before we address these issues, it will be helpful to review certain applicable principles. Illinois is a fact-pleading State. As our supreme court stated in People ex rel. Fahner v. Carriage Way West, Inc. (1981), 88 Ill.2d 300, 308, 430 N.E.2d 1005:

"To pass muster a complaint must state a cause of action in two ways. First, it must be legally sufficient; it must set forth a legally recognized claim as its avenue of recovery. When it fails to do this, there is no recourse at law for the injury alleged, and the complaint must be dismissed. [Citations.] Second and unlike Federal practice, the complaint must be factually sufficient; it must plead facts which bring the claim within the legally recognized cause of action alleged. If it does not, the complaint must be dismissed."

A pleader, however, is not required to set out his evidence. Only the ultimate facts to be proved should be alleged, and not the evidentiary facts tending to prove such ultimate facts. (88 Ill.2d 300, 430 N.E.2d 1005.) In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint, all well-pleaded facts and all reasonable inferences therefrom must be regarded as true. (See Cirafici v. Goffen (1980), 85 Ill. App.3d 1102, 407 N.E.2d 633.) A cause of action should not be dismissed unless it is clear that no set of facts could be proved which would entitle plaintiff to recover. Davis v. Weiskopf (1982), 108 Ill. App.3d 505, 439 N.E.2d 60.

• 2, 3 We first consider whether plaintiff alleged facts giving rise to a duty on the part of Condell toward plaintiff's decedent. A duty is an obligation imposed by the law upon a person which requires him to conform to a certain standard of conduct for the protection of another against an unreasonable risk. (Duncan v. Rzonca (1985), 133 Ill. App.3d 184, 478 N.E.2d 603.) Such a duty is a necessary element of causes of action for negligence and wilful and wanton misconduct. (See Pelham v. Griesheimer (1982), 92 Ill.2d 13, 440 N.E.2d 96; Breck v. Cortez (1986), 141 Ill. App.3d 351, 490 N.E.2d 88.) The issue of whether, under a given set of facts, the defendant and the plaintiff stood in such relationship to one another that a duty should be imposed is a question of law to be determined by the court. (Pelham v. Griesheimer (1982), 92 Ill.2d 13, 440 N.E.2d 96; Duncan v. Rzonca (1985), 133 Ill. App.3d 184, 478 N.E.2d 603.) The issue of duty is a nebulous and ill-defined area of the law. (Zimmermann v. Netemeyer (1984), 122 Ill. App.3d 1042, 462 N.E.2d 502.) It is "a reflection of the needs, the wishes and the tolerances of society as determined by the court." (122 Ill. App.3d 1042, 1051, 462 N.E.2d 502.) Stated in other terms, "[t]he judge's function in a duty determination involves complex considerations of legal and social policies which will directly affect the essential determination of the limits to government protection." (Nelson v. Commonwealth Edison Co. (1984), 124 Ill. App.3d 655, 662, 465 N.E.2d 513.) Factors bearing on the issue of duty include the foreseeability of subsequent occurrences, the likelihood of injury, the magnitude of the burden of guarding against it, and the consequences of placing that burden on the defendant. Davis v. Weiskopf (1982), 108 Ill. App.3d 505, 439 N.E.2d 60.

• 4 Considering those factors, it is our judgment here that the well-pleaded facts in the first amended complaint, along with the reasonable inferences therefrom, sufficiently require the law to impose a duty on Condell running in favor of plaintiff's decedent. The complaint alleges that Holt was "a person subject to involuntary admission," defined in section 1-119 of the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code, in pertinent part, as "[a] person who is mentally ill and who because of his illness is reasonably expected to inflict serious physical harm upon himself or another in the near future." (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 91 1/2, par. 1-119.) The complaint also alleges that Holt was a mentally disordered drug addict with propensities for violence and flight from authorities, and that Condell knew or should have known of those facts. Surely, it is reasonably foreseeable that if such a person is allowed to have access to an automobile, an accident will likely result. (See Cain v. Rijken (1985), 74 Ore. App. 76, 700 P.2d 1061 (foreseeable that patient, who had previously driven recklessly during psychotic episode, would do so again when disease became active), petition for review allowed (1985), 300 Ore. 111, 707 P.2d 583; Kent v. State (1963), 24 Ill. Ct. Cl. 321 (State liable for damages to vehicle stolen and wrecked by insane patient who escaped from State mental institution). Furthermore, the likelihood of injury in such an accident is obviously great.

• 5 The burden of guarding against the injury under the circumstances here would not have been onerous. The complaint alleges that Holt could have been involuntarily admitted at Condell pursuant to the Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Code. It may reasonably be inferred, therefore, that Condell was a mental-health facility under the Code (see Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 91 1/2, pars. 1-114, 3-600, 3-700) and had the means available to control dangerous mental patients.

Finally, the consequences of placing the burden of guarding against the injury on Condell would not be unpropitious. Article VI of chapter 3 of the Code provides procedures, which Condell could have followed, for emergency involuntary admission of persons in need of immediate hospitalization. (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 91 1/2, par. 3-600 et seq.) Moreover, ...


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