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Wilson v. F.B. McAfoos & Co.

November 19, 2003

SHELLEY WILSON, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
F.B. MCAFOOS & COMPANY AND JAMES ADAMS, DEFENDANTS (AMERICAN HEALTH CARE FINANCIAL SERVICES, INTERVENOR-APPELLANT).



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Williamson County. No. 99-L-135 Honorable Ronald R. Eckiss, Judge, presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Welch

UNPUBLISHED

On July 8, 1998, a vehicle driven by Shelley Wilson (the plaintiff) was struck in the rear by a vehicle driven by James Adams, an employee of F.B. McAfoos & Company. On September 15, 1999, the plaintiff filed suit in the circuit court of Williamson County against Adams and his employer to recover for personal injuries she suffered in the accident. This lawsuit was settled for the sum of $18,000, and on May 25, 2001, a stipulation for a dismissal with prejudice was filed in the circuit court of Williamson County.

The plaintiff had sought chiropractic care for her injuries from Dr. Todd Hamilton, who had billed the plaintiff $12,995 for that treatment. The plaintiff's automobile insurer had already paid Dr. Hamilton $3,000. On May 22, 2001, prior to the dismissal of the underlying lawsuit, the plaintiff filed a petition to adjudicate Dr. Hamilton's statutory physician's lien on the proceeds of the lawsuit. This petition to adjudicate the lien was served on American Health Care Financial Services (the intervenor), which had notified the plaintiff that it had purchased the first $5,000 of the plaintiff's outstanding account from Dr. Hamilton and had requested the payment of that $5,000 from the plaintiff. Dr. Hamilton had died in the meantime.

In her petition to adjudicate the lien, the plaintiff asserted that the intervenor could not be an assignee of the statutory physician's lien and that Dr. Hamilton's charges were excessive, unreasonable, and unrelated to the injuries incurred in the motor vehicle accident. The petition prayed that the court adjudicate Dr. Hamilton's medical bill and lien to be zero.

On July 3, 2001, the intervenor filed a petition to intervene in this cause, which was granted by the circuit court of Williamson County on July 23, 2001. The intervenor also filed a response to the plaintiff's petition to adjudicate the lien. The response included counterclaims against the plaintiff for breach of contract and equitable estoppel. The breach of contract claim was founded upon a contract entered into between the plaintiff and Dr. Hamilton in which the plaintiff (1) agreed to assign to Dr. Hamilton the direct payment of any sum received in the underlying lawsuit or from any insurance company for the injuries incurred in the accident, (2) granted to Dr. Hamilton a lien against any proceeds of the underlying lawsuit, and (3) agreed that she was personally liable for any amounts owed which were not collected from third parties. The equitable estoppel claim was based on the intervenor's allegations that the plaintiff, acting through her attorney, had induced the intervenor to purchase Dr. Hamilton's account receivable relating to the plaintiff by telling the intervenor that there was clear liability, that the plaintiff had been injured to a sufficient extent to justify the chiropractor's bills, and that Dr. Hamilton did not overcharge for his services. According to the intervenor, the plaintiff should now be estopped from claiming that Dr. Hamilton's bill is excessive, unreasonable, or unrelated to the motor vehicle accident or that the account could not be assigned.

On December 10, 2001, the intervenor filed a motion pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 219 (166 Ill. 2d R. 219) to compel the plaintiff's deposition and to compel her to pay reasonable expenses relating to her failure to appear for her previously scheduled deposition. On the same date, the intervenor filed a motion pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 219 to compel the plaintiff's attorney to answer certain questions propounded to him at his previous deposition relating to an accounting of the settlement proceeds received in the underlying lawsuit and the disbursement of those funds. The motion also sought to compel him to pay associated expenses.

On April 3, 2002, the plaintiff filed a motion for a summary judgment declaring that the intervenor is not entitled to a lien on the settlement proceeds from the underlying lawsuit because a physician's lien is not assignable as a matter of law. The intervenor opposed this motion for a summary judgment and, on April 10, 2002, filed its own motion for a summary judgment. This motion sought the following relief:

"1.) a partial summary judgment that [the plaintiff] is liable to [the intervenor] for breaching her contract to pay Dr. Hamilton's outstanding bill for chiropractic treatment provided her out of the settlement proceeds she received from the defendants in this case;
2.) a partial summary judgment that [the plaintiff] is liable to [the intervenor] pursuant to the Physician's [sic] Lien Act for the first $5,000 of Dr. Hamilton's bill or alternatively that [the plaintiff] is liable to [the intervenor] pursuant to the Physician's [sic] Lien Act for the amount of Dr. Hamilton's charges the court determines are reasonable and do not, in conjunction with other liens, exceed one third (1/3) of the sum paid her in settlement of her personal injury action by the defendants;
3.) a partial summary judgment that [the plaintiff] is liable to [the intervenor] for payment of the first $5,000 of Dr. Hamilton's health care account receivable from the settlement proceeds of her case pursuant to the equitable lien created by the contract between Dr. Hamilton and [the plaintiff]."

On June 11, 2002, the circuit court of Williamson County entered its order, which we set forth in its entirety:

"Several pending motions are under advisement-The Court rules as follows:
The resolution of the summary judgment motions will resolve most of the pending issues in this case. [The intervenor] seeks to enforce a physician lien in the name of Dr. Hamilton, based upon the purchase of part of Dr. Hamilton's accounts receivable. The debts owed to Dr. Hamilton may be purchased by a third party-and that 3rd party-[the intervenor]-may ...

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