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LaJeunesse v. Ford Motor Co.

July 27, 2009

EVELYN LAJEUNESSE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS INDEPENDENT ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF HENRY LAJEUNESSE, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF(S),
v.
FORD MOTOR COMPANY, A CORPORATION, DEFENDANT/COUNTER-PLAINTIFF,
v.
EVELYN LAJEUNESSE, AS INDEPENDENT ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF HENRY LAJEUNESSE, DECEASED, COUNTER-DEFENDANT(S).



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nan R. Nolan United States Magistrate Judge

Magistrate Judge Nan R. Nolan

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Counter-Defendant Evelyn LaJeunesse, as independent administrator of the Estate of Henry LaJeunesse (the "Estate"), has filed a Motion for Good Faith Finding and Dismissal of Counterclaim. After considering the parties written and oral arguments on this matter, the Court finds that the settlement meets the good faith requirement of the Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Act (740 ILCS 100/2(c)) and grants the Estate's Motion [#26].

A. Background

Evelyn LaJeunesse filed a complaint against Defendant Ford Motor Company ("Ford") alleging strict liability and negligence with respect to a vehicle accident that occurred on August 10, 2005, when a 2004 Ford Focus driven by her late husband, Henry LaJeunesse, allegedly sustained sudden unintended acceleration, jumped a curb in a K Mart parking lot and collided with the brick wall of an adjacent condominium garage in Crestwood, Illinois. The complaint contains claims of negligence and strict liability. Evelyn LaJeunesse alleges defects in the subject 2004 Ford Focus in the form of a stuck throttle, entrapped cruise control activator, failure of the airbags to deploy and of the seatbelt to safely restrain her. Evelyn suffered severe fractures of her right radius and ulna, and bilateral hip fractures as a result of the accident. Evelyn LaJeunesse claims $147,342 incurred in medical bills for her injuries to date. She also seeks damages for disfigurement, disability, loss of a normal life and pain and suffering.

Evelyn LaJeunesse, as Independent Administrator of the Estate of Henry LaJeunesse ("the Estate"), seeks wrongful death and survival act damages arising from the same accident and the death of Henry LaJeunesse. The Estate alleges the same defects in the subject Ford Focus vehicle and the Estate's complaint also sounds in strict liability and negligence. The Estate seeks to recover $99,756 in medical bills incurred to date, as well as damages for conscious pain and suffering, pecuniary injury and loss of society to the next of kin.

Ford denies the existence of the defects alleged in the subject vehicle, denies that the condition of the vehicle was the proximate cause of plaintiffs' damages and denies all liability to plaintiffs. Ford contends that the conduct of Henry LaJeunesse in mistaking the accelerator pedal for the brake pedal, in otherwise driving the vehicle negligently and in failing to properly wear the available occupant restraint was the sole proximate cause of the accident and the Estate's damages. Ford has counterclaimed against the Estate for contribution for its responsibility in causing the damages of Evelyn LaJeunesse, individually. Ford asserts that Evelyn LaJeunesse's damages were also proximately caused by her failure to utilize the available restraint. The Estate and Evelyn LaJeunesse, individually, deny Ford's claims.

The Estate says it reached a settlement with Evelyn LaJeunesse. The Hardford ("Hartford"), the insurance carrier for Henry and Evelyn LaJeunesse, agreed to pay $250,000.00 to Evelyn LaJeunesse. Evelyn LaJeunesse released her rights to make a claim against Hartford on the uninsured motorist section of her and her husband's insurance policy, in exchange for payment in the amount of $250,000. The release agreement executed by Evelyn LaJeunesse on April 26, 2006 states:

RELEASE AGREEMENT

TO ALL WHOM THESE PRESENTS SHALL COME OR MAY CONCERN: KNOW YE, THAT I Evelyn LaJeunesse ("Releasor") in consideration of the sum of Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Dollars $250,000.00, to me in hand paid by Hartford Insurance of Illinois and its affiliates (hereinafter referred to as "Hardford") . . . hereby remise, release and forever discharge Hartford . . . of and from all debts, dues, sums of money, obligations, reckoning, promises, covenants, agreements, contracts, endorsements, bonds, specialties, controversies, suits, actions, causes of action, trespasses, variances, judgments, executions, damages, claims or demands in law or in equity which against The Hartford I ever had, or now have or in the future may have, without limitation, arising out of or pertaining to UNINSURED motorist coverage provided under an automobile insurance policy, bearing policy number 55 PHE 949700 issued by Hartford to Henry J & Evelyn F LaJeunesse and resulting from an accident which occurred on 08/10/2005 in Crestwood, Illinois."

Doc. # 26, Exh. D. The agreement was executed prior to the filing of this lawsuit against Ford on August 6, 2007. The Estate asks this Court to find that the settlement was reached in good faith and therefore bars any contribution claims by Ford against Henry LaJeunesse pursuant to Section 2(c) of the Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Act, 740 ILCS 100/2(c). The Estate further moves to dismiss the counterclaim by Ford.

B. Discussion

The issue here is whether the settlement was made in good faith pursuant to the Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Act (the "Act"). The Act creates a statutory right of contribution "where 2 or more persons are subject to liability in tort arising out of the same injury to person or property, or the same wrongful death . . . ." 740 ILCS 100/2(a). The right of contribution "exists only in favor of a tortfeasor who has paid more than his pro rata share of the common liability, and his total recovery is limited to the amount paid by him in excess of his pro rata share." 740 ILCS 100/2(b). The tortfeasor who settles in good faith with a claimant is discharged from all liability for any contribution to any other tortfeasor. 740 ILCS 100/2(c), (d).

"The 'good faith' of a settlement is the only limitation which the Act places on the right to settle and it is the good-faith nature of a settlement that extinguishes the contribution liability of the settling tortfeasor." Johnson v. United Airlines, 784 N.E.2d 812, 818 (Ill. S.Ct. 2003.). The Illinois Supreme Court has held that a settlement is not in good faith if: (1) the settling parties engaged in wrongful conduct, collusion, or fraud; or (2) the settlement conflicts with the terms of the Act or is inconsistent with the policies underlying the Act. Id. at 821. The Contribution ...


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