Appeal from the Circuit Court of Lake County. Nos. 94--L--1382, 94--L--1725 cons. Honorable Charles F. Scott, Judge, Presiding.
Released for Publication January 16, 1998.
The Honorable Justice Doyle delivered the opinion of the court. Thomas and Rathje, JJ., concur.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Doyle
The Honorable Justice DOYLE delivered the opinion of the court:
This appeal is from a trial court order which denied a contribution claim brought pursuant to the Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Act (Contribution Act) (740 ILCS 100/0.01 et seq. (West 1996)). The primary question raised in the appeal is whether a plaintiff and a tortfeasor in a personal injury case made a good-faith settlement which discharged the settling tortfeasor from liability for contribution to a nonsettling tortfeasor.
On September 29, 1994, Paula Solimini sought recovery for injuries she suffered in an automobile accident by filing a negligence action (Solimini's case) against defendants Joan P. Thomas (Thomas), Maria J. Kalamaras (Kalamaras), Anthony M. Carney (Carney), and, on a theory of respondeat superior, Carney's employer, R.C. Topsoil (Topsoil). Thomas also suffered injuries in the same accident and brought a separate negligence action (Thomas' case) against Kalamaras, Carney, and Topsoil. The circuit court consolidated the two cases and tried them together. Prior to the trial, all the defendants in the Solimini case filed counterclaims for contribution against each other. On July 1, 1996, the jury returned verdicts in the consolidated cases.
With respect to Solimini's case, the jury's verdict was in favor of Solimini and awarded her total damages of $2,450,000.75. The jury acquitted Kalamaras and apportioned 30% of the liability to Thomas and 70% of the liability to Carney and Topsoil (hereinafter sometimes collectively referred to as Topsoil).
With respect to Thomas' case, the jury's verdict was in favor of Thomas and found that the total damages were $180,000. The jury acquitted Kalamaras and apportioned 30% of the liability to Thomas and 70% of the liability to Topsoil. After reducing Thomas' total damages by the percentage of her negligence, the jury awarded Thomas recoverable damages of $126,000.
While the jury was deliberating, attorneys for Solimini and Thomas orally agreed to settle Solimini's claims against Thomas (the Thomas settlement) for $50,000, which was purportedly the limit of Thomas' insurance coverage. On July 12, 1996, Solimini executed a release which stated that in consideration of $50,000 "in hand paid" Solimini released and discharged Thomas from all claims against Thomas related to the Solimini case.
The record does not show whether Solimini ever actually received the $50,0000 payment from Thomas or her insurer. However, Solimini's attorney indicated in deposition testimony that his office may have received a check from Thomas' insurer, but, if received, the check was returned to the insurer because it included lienholders among the payees which was not acceptable to Solimini.
On September 4, 1996, Solimini agreed to settle her claims against Carney and Topsoil (the Topsoil settlement). On the same date, Carney, Topsoil, and Topsoil's insurer obtained a release from Solimini (the Topsoil release). The Topsoil release discharged Carney, Topsoil, and the insurer from all claims arising from Solimini's case in return for $2 million and acknowledged receipt of that amount. On the same date, Solimini also executed a "Release and Satisfaction of Judgment" (the Topsoil satisfaction of judgment), which stated that it fully released "the judgment entered on July 1, 1996 against defendants R.C. Topsoil and Anthony M. Carney in the amount of TWO MILLION FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS AND SEVENTY-FIVE CENTS ($2,450,000.75), plus costs and statutory interests." On September 6, 1996, pursuant to the terms of its settlement agreement, Topsoil delivered checks totalling $2 million to Solimini's attorney.
On September 10, 1996, Solimini's attorney signed a document entitled "Release (Satisfaction) of Judgment." This document stated that it released the judgment of $735,000.23 (30 % of $2,450,000.75) entered on July 1, 1996, against Thomas.
On November 12, 1996, Topsoil motioned for judgment on its counterclaim for contribution against Thomas. The motion sought a judgment of $234,999.46 against Thomas. This figure was based on Topsoil's assertion that it had paid $284,999.46 in excess of its pro rata share of the damages in the Solimini case. Topsoil arrived at the figure of $234,999.46 by allowing $50,000 for the amount Thomas had purportedly paid Solimini pursuant to the Thomas settlement. In the alternative, Topsoil indicated that it was willing to accept a full satisfaction from Thomas of the $126,000 judgment against Topsoil in the Thomas case.
After conducting a hearing on the matter, the trial court entered a written order on December 18, 1996. The order stated; inter alia, the following:
A. On the judgment entered on the verdict of $2,450,000.00 in favor of Plaintiff SOLIMINI, that R.C. TOPSOIL and CARNEY shall recover of Defendant THOMAS the sum of $735,000.00 on their counterclaim;
B. The Court further finds that the settlement entered into between Plaintiff SOLIMINI and Defendant THOMAS was in good faith, pursuant to 740 ILCS 100/2(c) and (d), and further holds that the right to pursue contribution on the counterclaim of R.C. TOPSOIL and CARNEY is barred and extinguished by ...