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O'connor v. Pinto Trucking Service

OPINION FILED NOVEMBER 18, 1986.

SEAN O'CONNOR, AS ADM'R. OF THE ESTATE OF JOHN O'CONNOR, DECEASED, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,

v.

PINTO TRUCKING SERVICE, INC., A/K/A PINTO TRUCKING COMPANY, A/K/A PINTO AIR FREIGHT COMPANY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND COUNTERPLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS, (GINDY MANUFACTURING COMPANY, A/K/A GINDY, A/K/A THE BUDD COMPANY, DEFENDANTS AND COUNTERDEFENDANTS-APPELLEES).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Samuel S. Berger, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE HARTMAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

We are asked to review an order dismissing a countercomplaint due to certain defendants-counterdefendants having entered into a settlement agreement with plaintiffs. The issues raised include whether: (1) the circuit court erred in dismissing from the lawsuit one of the defendants-counterdefendants in light of its settlement with plaintiffs; (2) defendants-counterplaintiffs waived their appellate arguments that the settlement agreement was not in good faith; and (3) the Contribution Act (Act) (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 70, par. 301 et seq.) is unconstitutional in that it deprived defendants-counterplaintiffs of a remedy.

On May 14, 1981, John O'Connor was killed when his car crashed into the rear of a semitrailer parked on the north side of West Irving Park Road in the 8100 block. The semitrailer was manufactured by defendant-counterdefendant, Gindy Manufacturing Company (a/k/a the Budd Company) (Budd), and sold to Ryder Truck Rental (Ryder) in September 1970. In 1976 Ryder sold the trailer to Lapadola Air Freight Transfer, Inc., which, in 1977, sold it to defendant-counterplaintiff, Pinto Trucking Service, Inc. (Pinto). In 1980 Pinto sold the trailer to defendant-counterplaintiff, ATC Leasing Corp. (ATC), which in turn leased it back to Pinto.

John Szetela, also a defendant-counterplaintiff, owned the tractor which pulled the semitrailer and was responsible for having parked it, allegedly as an agent of Pinto and ATC. Defendant-counterdefendant, city of Chicago, was responsible for lighting the south half of Irving Park Road. The city limits apparently extended from the south curb only to the center of the street.

On December 29, 1982, O'Connor's widow and his estate filed suit against Pinto, Szetela, Budd, and the city. On May 13, 1983, plaintiffs filed a first amended complaint adding ATC, Ryder, and Lapadola as defendants. The complaint's first eight counts alleged various acts of negligence and wilful and wanton misconduct against Pinto, ATC, Szetela, and the city. Three additional counts sounded in strict products liability and res ipsa loquitur against Budd, Ryder, and Lapadola. On September 20, 1984, plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint alleging additional counts in res ipsa loquitur against Pinto, ATC, Szetela, and the city. The primary allegations in the complaint concerned inadequate lighting on the street, inadequate lighting on the parked trailer, and improper placement of the "DOT bar" (bumper) on the rear of the semitrailer. The complaint asked for in excess of $7 million in damages.

On October 12, 1984, the semitrailer manufacturer, Budd, answered the second amended complaint asserting the statute of repose as an affirmative defense, as well as comparative negligence and assumption of risk as additional affirmative defenses. Budd moved to dismiss the res ipsa loquitur count against it and also filed a motion for summary judgment with respect to the strict-liability count. While these motions were still pending, on April 25, 1985, plaintiffs offered to settle with Budd, Ryder, and the city for $75,000. Budd had previously offered a settlement of $5,000; however, on June 25, 1985, Budd agreed to pay $15,000 in settlement. Ryder and the city settled for smaller amounts.

On June 5, 1985, Pinto, Szetela, and ATC filed counterclaims for contribution against Budd, Ryder, and the city.

On July 1, 1985, plaintiffs dismissed their counts against Budd, Ryder, and the city in accordance with the settlement agreement. Budd, Ryder, and the city thereafter filed motions to dismiss the counterclaims, contending that the settlement was reached in good faith. On September 19, 1985, defendants-counterplaintiffs objected to the settlement contending that it was unreasonably low and entered into in bad faith. Following a hearing on October 3, 1985, the circuit court granted the dismissal of the counterclaims against Budd, Ryder, and the city and dismissed them from the action.

Defendants Pinto, Szetela, and ATC appeal the dismissal of Budd, but not of Ryder and the city.

For greater facility in understanding the positions of the various parties, we set forth the following table:

PLAINTIFFS: ESTATE OF O'CONNOR (decedent's estate) CATHERINE O'CONNOR (decedent's wife)

v. DEFENDANTS: ATC (owner/lessor of the semitrailer) PINTO (lessee of the semitrailer) SZETELA (operator of the semitrailer) BUDD (GINDY) (manufacturer of the semitrailer) RYDER (previous owner of the semitrailer) LAPADOLA (previous owner of the semitrailer) *fn1 CITY OF CHICAGO (responsible for lighting part of the street)

COUNTERCLAIM

DEFENDANTS-COUNTERPLAINTIFFS: ATC (owner/lessor) PINTO (lessee) SZETELA (operator) v. DEFENDANTS-COUNTERDEFENDANTS: BUDD (semitrailer manufacturer) RYDER ...


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