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Simpson v. Matthews

May 5, 2003

JEREMY SIMPSON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
RUSSELL MATTHEWS, DEFENDANT AND COUNTERDEFENDANT-APPELLEE, AND ALAN REYNOLDS, DEFENDANT AND COUNTERPLAINTIFF-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Wayne County. No. 99-L-4 Honorable Charles L. Quindry, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Chapman

PUBLISHED

This action was brought by a car's passenger, Jeremy Simpson, against the car's driver, Alan Reynolds, and another vehicle's driver, Russell Matthews, to recover damages for personal injuries resulting from a two-vehicle accident. Prior to the trial, Simpson entered into an agreement with Reynolds that he would not seek a recovery beyond Reynolds' insurance policy limits, in exchange for his remaining a party to the suit. Matthews filed a motion to dismiss Simpson's complaint against Reynolds and Reynolds' counterclaim against Matthews, contending that as a result of the agreement, no justiciable matter existed between Simpson and Reynolds. The court dismissed both the claim against Reynolds and the counterclaim against Matthews and made the express finding that there was no just reason for delaying the appeal. Simpson takes this appeal pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 304(a) (155 Ill. 2d R. 304(a)).

We hold that the agreement was not void as contrary to public policy and left a justiciable controversy between Simpson and Reynolds. We reverse and remand.

I. BACKGROUND

The plaintiff, Jeremy Simpson, was a passenger in a car driven by Alan Reynolds. Reynolds' car was struck by a truck driven by Russell Matthews. Simpson suffered serious head injuries as a result of the accident, incurring more than $150,000 in medical bills. Simpson brought suit against both drivers. Reynolds sought contribution from Matthews. Discovery revealed that Reynolds was insured for $50,000, while Matthews was insured for $1 million. Reynolds orally tendered the $50,000 policy limits in full settlement of the claim against him. This offer was rejected by Simpson, and a subsequent agreement was entered into between Simpson and Reynolds, memorialized by letters dated October 20 and 25, 1999:

"October 20, 1999

I want to write you this letter to confirm our informal discussion of October 20th just prior to the discovery depositions of Dr. Meinert and Mr. Williamson in Carbondale, Illinois. Based on that conversation, it is my understanding that, while you are not formally accepting the settlement offer of my client's policy limits less the medical pay, you have agreed to accept that amount of money in full compensation of any settlement or judgment that might be rendered against my client, Alan Reynolds. It is my further understanding that you want to keep Mr. Reynolds in this case so that the co[]defendant, Russell Matthews, will not have an empty chair to point to. In return for that assurance, I will be less active in the defense of this case, particularly the medical issues, and still active in my pursuit of Russell Matthews as the sole or at least primary tortfeasor in connection with this case. Please provide me with some type of written acknowledgment along these lines so I will not feel compelled to become active at the upcoming health care evidence depositions that you have scheduled in this case. Thank you.

Very truly yours,

***

BY Roy L. Carnine"

"October 25, 1999

Your October 20, 1999[,] letter fairly sets out our conversation. However, I want to be clear that in the Simpsons' [sic] interest, although we will not pursue Mr. Reynolds personally for damages, no 'settlement' has been accepted. Please call if you have questions.

Yours truly,

Patricia Littleton

***

cc: Daniel R. Price" (Emphasis in ...


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