Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 93-L-56. Honorable Jerome F. Lopinot, Judge, presiding.
As Corrected July 13, 1995.
Presiding Justice Maag delivered the opinion of the court: Chapman, J., and Welch, J., concur.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Maag
PRESIDING JUSTICE MAAG delivered the opinion of the court:
Defendants and third-party plaintiffs, Acme Septic Tank & Sewer Cleaning, Kohnen Concrete Products, Inc., Hy Ho Restaurant, Inc., James Brede, Michael Mercurio, and Metro-East Zipps, Inc., appeal from a St. Clair County circuit court order dismissing the City of Belleville from the action as a third-party defendant.
Plaintiff, Betty Blake, individually and as special administrator of the estate of Jack Blake, originally filed this action against Hy Ho Restaurant, Inc., James Brede, Michael Mercurio, and Zipps of Illinois, Inc., on January 21, 1993, seeking recovery for the wrongful death of her husband, Jack Blake. Plaintiff alleges that Jack Blake, then a City of Belleville employee, was killed on August 8, 1991, by methane gas fumes while removing grease deposits that clogged the city sewer line near the two restaurants. It was claimed that defendants' negligent disposal and maintenance practices caused the deposits.
On August 3, 1993, plaintiff amended her complaint to add Metro-East Zipps, Inc., Kohnen Concrete Products, Inc., and Acme Septic Tank & Sewer Cleaning, as defendants, alleging negligence or strict liability in the design, construction, and maintenance of the sewer line, sewer components, and grease interceptors connecting the Hy Ho and Zipps restaurants to the Belleville city sewer system. Kohnen answered on September 29, 1993, raising various affirmative defenses, including comparative fault under section 2-1116 and several liability under section 2-1117 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (Code). (735 ILCS 5/2-1116, 2-1117 (West 1992).) Acme filed a third-party complaint on October 21, 1993, against the City of Belleville seeking contribution under the Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Act (Contribution Act) (740 ILCS 100/0.01 et seq. (West 1992)) and a prayer that alleged that if it was to be found liable, its liability should be several only pursuant to section 2-1117. Thereafter, all other defendants filed third-party complaints against one another and against the City of Belleville seeking contribution and apportionment of liability.
On March 21, 1993, the City of Belleville moved to dismiss all pending third-party claims against it on the basis that it had settled with Betty Blake for $125,000 and agreed to waive its workers' compensation lien against plaintiff. The trial court found the settlement to be in good faith and ordered all contribution and apportionment counts against the City of Belleville dismissed with prejudice on June 23, 1993. The circuit court certified its order under Supreme Court Rule 304 (134 Ill. 2d R. 304). Defendants and third-party plaintiffs appeal from this order.
The single issue raised by appellants is whether the trial court erred in dismissing the third-party defendant City of Belleville (City) prior to a determination of fault. Appellants contend that section 2-1117 requires the trial court to defer the dismissal of a settling codefendant or third-party defendant until after fault has been apportioned. In the alternative, appellants contend that even if the City was properly dismissed from the action, the City should still be maintained as a nominal party so that the trier of fact can apportion fault among all of the tortfeasors.
"All defendants found liable are jointly and severally liable for plaintiff's past and future medical and medically related expenses. Any defendant whose fault, as determined by the trier of fact, is less than 25% of the total fault attributable to the plaintiff, the defendants sued by the plaintiff, and any third party defendant who could have been sued by the plaintiff, shall be severally liable for all other damages. Any defendant whose fault, as determined by the trier of fact, is 25% or greater of the total fault attributable to the plaintiff, the defendants sued by the plaintiff, and any third party defendant who could have been sued by the plaintiff shall be jointly and severally liable for all other damages." 735 ILCS 5/2-1117 (West 1992).
Appellants argue that equity demands that each defendant should pay only the percentage of the damages for which he is responsible. The only way to achieve this apportionment of fault under section 2-1117, appellants argue, is for the fact-finder to apportion fault among all alleged tortfeasors, including those who settle with the plaintiff and are dismissed prior to trial. Appellants reason that given the City's dismissal, the City's fault will not be apportioned. Therefore, appellants may unjustly be found 25% or more at fault, thereby defeating their rights under section 2-1117.
We find this argument to be unpersuasive. To require that a defendant's fault be assessed despite its prior settlement with plaintiff would frustrate Illinois public policy favoring peaceful and voluntary resolutions of claims through settlement agreements. ( Jachera v. Blake-Lamb Funeral Homes, Inc. (1989), 189 Ill. App. 3d 281, 545 N.E.2d 314, 136 Ill. Dec. 790.) The Contribution Act contemplates and permits settlement by fewer than all tortfeasors who may be responsible for plaintiff's injuries. Jachera, 189 Ill. App. 3d at 285, 545 N.E.2d at 317.
Section 2(c) of the Contribution Act provides that a settling tortfeasor's payment reduces the remaining defendant's liability by the dollar amount of the settlement agreement, and section 2(d) specifically provides that the settling tortfeasor is to be discharged from all contribution to any other tortfeasor. (740 ILCS 100/2(c), (d) (West 1992); Ellis v. E.W. Bliss & Co. (1988), 173 Ill. App. 3d 779, 527 N.E.2d 1022, 123 Ill. Dec. 384.) Thus, appellants' argument that their respective liability should be reduced by the pro rata share of the dismissed defendant's liability is misdirected and erroneous. If such were the case, a nonsettling defendant would receive a double benefit. First, any judgment amount entered in favor of a plaintiff would be reduced to reflect the partial settlement. Then, potentially, the nonsettling defendants would ...