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07/28/94 SUSAN PATTON v. CARBONDALE CLINIC

July 28, 1994

SUSAN PATTON, AS ADM'R OF THE ESTATE OF SUSANNE PATTON, DECEASED, APPELLEE,
v.
CARBONDALE CLINIC, S.C., APPELLANT.



Nickels

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nickels

JUSTICE NICKELS delivered the opinion of the court:

Defendant, Carbondale Clinic, appeals from an appellate court decision affirming the trial court's refusal to reduce plaintiff's jury verdict in the amount of previous settlements. (241 Ill. App. 3d 149.) We granted defendant's petition for leave to appeal (134 Ill. 2d R. 315) and now reverse.

The Accident

Susanne Patton, a 15-year-old girl, was injured in an automobile accident on August 15, 1986. Susanne was a passenger in the vehicle driven by Andrew Zieba. After the accident, Susanne was brought to the Memorial Hospital of Carbondale emergency room where she was examined by Dr. Gregg Brotzman. Brotzman consulted with Susanne's pediatrician, Dr. Norman Geyer, defendant's employee, and Susanne was admitted overnight for evaluation. There was some concern because Susannehad blood in her urine and an elevated white-blood-cell count. The accident had bruised Susanne's lower abdomen.

Susanne was released the next day, but was later readmitted for emergency surgery on August 19, 1986. At this time, it was discovered that Susanne had suffered a transected jejunum, the lower portion of the intestine, in the automobile accident. As a result, Susanne's intestinal contents had spilled into her abdominal cavity and peritonitis had developed. The jejunum was repaired, and Susanne appeared to recover. However, on Friday, August 22, 1986, Susanne's condition worsened, and she was transported by helicopter to St. Louis Children's Hospital, where she died of septic shock.

Lawsuit #1: Plaintiff v. Zieba

On October 8, 1986, Susanne's mother (plaintiff), as administrator of her estate, filed suit against the driver of the automobile, Zieba, in Jackson County. In this suit, plaintiff alleged that Zieba negligently drove his car which "directly and proximately caused the death" of Susanne. The complaint alleged:

"That as a direct and proximate result of said acts of negligence by ZIEBA, as alleged herein, the motor vehicle being operated by him skidded across and off the roadway and crashed into a tree all of which resulted in the death of Suzanne [sic] Patton * * * ."

Plaintiff's complaint sought recovery for Susanne's death under the Wrongful Death Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 70, pars. 1 through 2.2), for pain and suffering sustained by Susanne, and for expenses under the family expense act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 40, par. 1015).

Plaintiff settled with Zieba on July 30, 1987, for the limits of his automobile insurance policy, $100,000. The settlement stated that it was "for the personal injuries and/or wrongful death or other damages incurred andresulting from the death of the said Susanne Patton." The settlement also stated that it released Zieba and his insurer "for any and all claims, causes of action, demands, damages, costs, expenses and claims for loss of services or personal injuries and/or wrongful death, and any damages flowing therefrom, either contractual or in tort." The parties did not allocate the money received from the settlement as to the various causes of action. The trial court found the settlement was made in good faith and dismissed plaintiff's action against Zieba on July 30, 1987.

Lawsuit #2: Plaintiff v. Ford

Plaintiff filed a second lawsuit against Williamson County and its superintendent of highways, on September 1, 1987, in Williamson County. Plaintiff later added Ford Motor Company, the maker of the automobile, to this suit on August 11, 1988, and later dismissed all other defendants. In the complaint against Ford, plaintiff alleged:

"6. That as a result of said collision Susanne Patton was thrown forward, but was held by the lap seat belt which injured her stomach, caused her bowel to be perforated, and caused her death;

7. That the injuries and death of Susanne Patton were directly and proximately caused by the unreasonable dangerous condition of the motor vehicle in which Susanne Patton was a passenger.

The complaint against Ford sought to recover for Susanne's death under the Wrongful Death Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 70, pars. 1 through 2.2), for pain and suffering under the Survival Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 110 1/2, par. 27-6), and for medical and burial expenses under the family expense act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1985, ch. 40, par. 1015).

Plaintiff settled with Ford for an undisclosed amount on March 24, 1990. The release provided in pertinent part:

"WHEREAS [plaintiff] has claimed that said accident caused injuries to Susanne, which injuries preceded her death; and

WHEREAS, subsequent to said accident, Susanne Patton received negligent medical care at Carbondale Memorial Hospital from employees of said hospital, and from employees of the Carbondale Clinic; and

WHEREAS, [plaintiff] desires to enter into a settlement agreement with Ford Motor Company for the injuries which [plaintiff] claims was [sic] caused by the accident and further desires to maintain her pending litigation against the parties and entities who she alleges negligently treated Susanne after her injury and prior to her death; and

WHEREAS, [plaintiff] maintains that the parties and entities which committed malpractice are not joint tort-feasors with any other alleged tort-feasor; and

WHEREAS, [plaintiff] * * * agrees to release any claim she may have against Ford Motor Company for the injuries which she alleges were caused by Ford Motor Company, and desires to and intends to pursue her cause of action against the parties and entities whom she claims committed malpractice and in so doing aggravated the injuries she alleges were caused initially ...


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