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Reed v. Witvoet

February 01, 2000

ELAINE M. REED, AS SPECIAL ADM'R FOR THE ESTATE OF THAD WELLS III, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
V.
JAMES WITVOET, SR., DEFENDANT-APPELLEE (JAMES WITVOET, JR., INDIVIDUALLY AND D/B/A JAMES WITVOET AND SONS, J AND B FRUIT AND VEGETABLE FARM, AND J AND J IMPLEMENT, DEFENDANTS).



Appeal from the Circuit Court for the 21st Judicial Circuit, Kankakee County, Illinois No. 95-L-55 Honorable Duane J. O'Connor Judge Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Koehler

The plaintiff in this wrongful death action, Elaine Reed, appeals the Kankakee County circuit court's grant of defendant James Witvoet, Sr.'s motion for summary judgment. We must decide whether the circuit court erred when it concluded that (1) the parents' violation of the Child Labor Law (820 ILCS 205/19 (West 1992)) barred their recovery of damages in a wrongful death action against the deceased minor's employer; and (2) the parents' violation also defeated the innocent beneficiary's recovery in the action. Because we conclude that the circuit court misapprehended the law with regard to an innocent beneficiary's recovery of damages, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

I. FACTS

Thad Wells III, the 13-year-old decedent, died subsequent to an explosion from a tire that he was inflating with an air compressor while working at a farm. His survivors include his mother, Elaine Reed; his father, Thad Wells, Jr.; and his 16-year-old brother, Lyle Wells. Defendant James Witvoet, Sr., employed the decedent to work on his farm at the father's request. The defendant also employed Thad Wells, Jr., on the farm. The decedent's parents transported him to and from work. While at work, the decedent did the same type of work as his father.

Plaintiff Elaine Reed brought suit as administrator of the decedent's estate and alleged that defendants James Witvoet, Sr., and James Witvoet, Jr., employed the decedent in a "non-agricultural and hazardous occupation" in violation of the Child Labor Law(the Act) (820 ILCS 205/1 et seq. (West 1992)). Although defendant Witvoet, Sr., stipulated that he employed the decedent, he denied employing the decedent in a "non-agricultural and hazardous occupation." Moreover, defendant Witvoet, Sr., raised an affirmative defense, asserting he employed the decedent in an agricultural occupation and was, therefore, exempt from violating the Act under section 2 (820 ILCS 205/2 (West 1992)).

Following a jury trial, the plaintiff filed a posttrial motion asking for a new trial on the issue of damages, which she later withdrew as to defendant Witvoet, Sr. Defendant Witvoet, Sr., also filed a motion for a new trial, alleging various errors. After the circuit court concluded that the evidence of the parents' conduct in obtaining the decedent's employment should not have been barred, it vacated the jury verdict and granted the defendants a new trial.

Defendant Witvoet, Sr., (the defendant) subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment with various affidavits attached, alleging that the parents violated the Act when they willfully permitted and/or allowed him to employ the decedent in an unlawful occupation and such conduct barred any recovery. See 820 ILCS 205/19 (West 1992). The plaintiff did not file any counteraffidavits or a response to the defendant's motion for summary judgment. After a hearing on the motion where both parties gave arguments, the circuit court granted the motion.

In so doing, the circuit court stated:

"Even though very old, the controlling case is Newton v. Illinois Oil Co., 316 Ill. 416, 147 N.E.465. No party to this cause has cited any subsequent decision to this Court which modifies the Newton holding and it is believed none exists. That case clearly holds that the parents are prohibited from recovery by their participation in the minor's illegal employment. The more troubling question is whether or not the non-offending siblings of the decedent are also barred from recovery in an action by the minor's estate, in effect, as a result of the acts of the parents.

Newton resolves this question with the following language:

'It follows, therefore, that brothers or sisters of the deceased may not recover damages for his death in an action brought by the administrator of his estate, where the illegal act of the parent was a contributing cause of the death.'

Based upon all of the foregoing, the Court finds that there is no material issue of fact or law remaining and the defendant is entitled to Summary Judgment."

Subsequent to the circuit court's grant of summary judgment, it entered an order voluntarily dismissing defendant Witvoet, Jr., thereby disposing of the last ...


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