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Schaaf v. Midwest Transfer & Logistics

July 8, 2010

LYLE VANDER SCHAAF, PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF GREGORY VANDER SCHAAF, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MIDWEST TRANSFER & LOGISTICS, LLC AND MARK RHODES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Blanche M. Manning

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This order addresses the latest effort of defendants Mark Rhodes (who was driving a truck that was involved in a collision that resulted in the death of Gregory Vander Schaaf on April 19, 2006) and Midwest Transfer & Logistics (Mr. Rhodes' employer) to limit the amount of damages potentially recoverable by Mr. Vander Schaff's estate. The defendants' motion in limine seeking to exclude evidence of loss of society damages by anyone other than Stephen Sorgatz (also known as Stephen Tovar) is before the court. For the following reasons, the defendants' motion is denied.

Background

On April 19, 2006, Gregory Vander Schaaf, a South Dakota citizen, was killed in a two-vehicle accident involving a vehicle driven by Mark Rhodes on Route 20 near Coral, Illinois. At the time of the accident, Mr. Rhodes was operating a vehicle in the course and scope of his employment with Midwest, a limited liability corporation. Midwest's sole managing member is American Wood Recycling, Inc., an Illinois corporation with its principal place of business in Illinois.

Gregory was survived by Lyle Vander Schaaf (his brother), Kara Donoghue and Lynnette Vander Schaaf (his sisters), Marilyn Vander Schaaf (his mother), and Stephen Sorgatz (his biological son, who had been adopted by the husband of Stephen's biological mother).*fn1

Following the accident, in November of 2007, Gregory's Estate, through its personal representative Lyle Vander Schaaf, filed this diversity action against Midwest and Mr. Rhodes under the Illinois Wrongful Death Act.

In May of 2009, Stephen executed a disclaimer to his rights in Gregory's Estate which renounced his interest in Gregory's Estate. The identity of the beneficiaries is a critical one in this case, as the measure of loss of society damages for Stephen (who had no relationship with Gregory) and Gregory's mother/siblings (who had a relationship with Gregory) is different.

The defendants filed a motion to strike references to Gregory's siblings and mother from the second amended complaint, contending that Stephen -- not the mother/siblings -- is the proper beneficiary under the Illinois Wrongful Death Act. The parties then briefed the effect of the disclaimer under Illinois law. On November 6, 2009, the court issued an order addressing the intersection of the Illinois Probate Act and the Illinois Wrongful Death Act in connection with the disclaimer. The court denied the motion to strike, stating:

The only reference to Lyle, Kara, Lynnette and Marilyn in the second amended complaint provides: "Gregory Vander Schaaf, deceased, left surviving him: Lyle Vander Schaaf, his brother; Kara Donoghue, his sister; Lynnette Vander Schaaf, his sister; Marilyn Vander Schaaf, his mother; and Stephen Tovar, his son who was adopted by Stephen's natural mother's husband." Pl.'s 2d Am. Compl. [Doc. 45] ¶ 9 of Count I & ¶ 7 of Count II. This sentence is part of the narrative of the events surrounding Gregory's death. It does not provide details of Lyle, Kara, Lynnette and Marilyn's relationship with Gregory or any losses allegedly suffered after his death. It also does not imply that Lyle, Kara, Lynnette and Marilyn are the eligible beneficiaries under the Wrongful Death Act. Accordingly, the mere identification of Lyle, Kara, Lynnette and Marilyn as survivors does not confuse the issues in this case or subject Midwest and Rhodes to an undue burden of additional discovery.

In addition, if this allegation remains in the complaint, the defendants may still attempt to limit the introduction of evidence regarding the nature of the relationship between Gregory and his survivors or any losses that survivors who are not eligible beneficiaries under the Wrongful Death Act suffered due to Gregory's death. See e.g. Sallenger v. City of Springfield, No. 03-3093, 2007 WL 2769679, at *2 (C.D. Ill. Sept. 19, 2007) (granting motion in limine to bar evidence of losses suffered by another survivors who are not eligible beneficiaries under the Wrongful Death Act). Therefore, the reference is not prejudicial so the defendants' motion to strike is denied.

Dkt. 65 at 6.

The court also permitted Gregory's Estate to amend the complaint to add references to the disclaimer, based on its conclusion that amendment would not be futile because Illinois law (specifically, the Illinois Probate Act and the Illinois Wrongful Death Act) allowed Stephen to disclaim his interest in a wrongful death claim and thereby alter the class of eligible beneficiaries. Specifically, the court explained:

Thus, based on the plain language of the Probate Act, Stephen's disclaimer meant that he was not legally alive at the time of Gregory's death for the purposes of intestate succession. See Morris v. William L. Dawson Nursing Ctr., Inc., 187 Ill. 2d 494, 497-99 (Ill. 1999) (intestate succession rules provide the means to identify eligible beneficiaries in a Wrongful Death Act action). Because, by operation of law, Gregory's only child predeceased him, Lyle, Kara, Lynnette and Marilyn were Gregory's next of kin at the time of his death. See § 755 ILCS § 5/2-1(d). Thus, they are eligible beneficiaries under the Wrongful ...


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