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Denton v. Universal Am-Can, Ltd.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division

January 14, 2015

JAMES AND THERESA DENTON, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
UNIVERSAL AM-CAN, LTD., a Corporation; UNIVERSAL TRUCKLOAD SERVICES, INC., a Corporation; DAVID LEE JOHNSON AND LOUIS BROADWELL, LLC, Defendants-Appellants OMG, Inc., a Corporation; RFX, Inc., a Corporation; and Michael A. Twardak, Defendants

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 12 L 3085. The Honorable William E. Gomolinski, Judge Presiding.

Reversed; remanded.


In a personal injury action arising from a chain reaction collision on an Indiana interstate highway involving multiple cars and trucks when one driver was proceeding northbound on a southbound lane, the appellate court answered a question certified under Supreme Court Rule 308 as to whether Illinois law or Indiana law should be applied to the issues of liability and damages in the case by concluding that Indiana law should apply because Indiana has more significant contacts with the suit and policy reasons, including Indiana's law maintaining that defendants can only be held severally liable for their own percentage of fault, the Indiana law allowing defendants to prove the negligence of an absent or settling tortfeasor, and the Indiana law allowing defendants to defend by attempting to persuade the jury that a nonparty, such as the wrong-way driver, was responsible for the collisions; therefore, the trial court's judgment in favor of applying Illinois law was reversed and the cause was remanded for further proceedings.

For Appellant: Carlton D. Fisher, Stephen S. Swofford, Timothy G. Shelton, Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, Chicago, IL.

For Appellee: James M. Roche, Theisen & Roche, LTD., Wheaten, IL.

JUSTICE LAVIN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Hyman and Mason concurred in the judgment and opinion.


Page 449


[¶1] Plaintiffs James and Theresa Denton, Illinois residents, filed a personal injury action against defendants Universal Am-Can, Ltd.; Universal Truckload Services, Inc.; David Lee Johnson and Louis Broadwell, LLC, among others, for a vehicular accident that occurred on an interstate highway in Jasper County, Indiana. When presented with defendants' choice-of-law motion for application of Indiana law, the circuit court instead ruled that Illinois law applied. On defendants' motion, the circuit court granted leave to file an interlocutory appeal pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 308 (eff. Feb. 26, 2010) and certified the following question for our review: " Whether Illinois law or Indiana law should be applied to the issues of liability and damages in the present case." Contrary to the circuit court, we conclude that Indiana law governs the liability and damages issues in this case. We therefore reverse the judgment of the circuit court and remand for further proceedings consistent with our judgment.


[¶3] This litigation stems from a multivehicle accident that occurred around noon on February 8, 2011, on Interstate 65 (I-65) in Indiana. The record reveals that Indiana resident George Kallis,[1] who is now deceased, drove northbound on the southbound lane of I-65, setting off an

Page 450

unfortunate chain reaction of collisions. The vehicles endeavored to avoid the Kallis vehicle, and the semi-tractor trailer truck driven by David Lee Johnson ultimately rear-ended Denton's vehicle. In particular, a police report taken at the time revealed that upon seeing Kallis driving the wrong way, two vehicles slowed and moved to the side. Denton crashed into one of these vehicles and was then propelled into the middle of the highway. Johnson subsequently rear-ended Denton, shoving his car into another vehicle on the side. Denton suffered physical injuries and his wife claimed a loss of consortium. Plaintiffs ultimately received a $100,000 settlement from the Kallis estate. Plaintiffs then filed this case in Illinois, claiming truck driver Johnson was negligent, essentially for failing to keep a proper lookout and failing to reduce speed, resulting in the collision with Denton's vehicle. Plaintiffs alleged the defendants who are party to this appeal either hired Johnson or leased Johnson's truck and, given Johnson's license suspensions, tickets and otherwise allegedly checkered driving record, they were also negligent for hiring him or leasing him the truck. The defendants, in turn, filed answers and affirmative defenses alleging in pertinent part that a third party proximately caused the accident, the damages resulted from nonparties (namely, Kallis), and alleging that Indiana law barred or diminished the claim. Then, within days of plaintiffs' Illinois lawsuit, defendants Universal Am-Can, Ltd., Broadwell, and Johnson filed their own negligence action in Indiana against both Kallis and Denton.

[¶4] The pleadings, taken altogether, reveal that Universal Am-Can was a Michigan corporation that conducted continuous business in Illinois and also did business in Indiana, but both Universal Truckload Services, Inc. (also a Michigan corporation), and Broadwell (a South Carolina corporation) denied the same allegation. On appeal, defendants have acknowledged that the corporate defendants, although domiciled elsewhere, did business in Illinois. Additionally, Johnson was a South Carolina resident, and Denton was traveling in Indiana for business. The other defendants, who are not party to this appeal, included driver Michael Twardak, an Illinois resident, RFX, Inc. (allegedly a Massachusetts corporation), and OMG, Inc. (allegedly a Delaware corporation).

[¶5] The exact relationship of the corporate defendants is not clear from the record. According to the trial court order RFX apparently entered into a subcontract with Universal Am-Can to transport goods for OMG from OMG's facility in Illinois. From the pleadings, Universal Truckload Services appears to have been somehow involved in the contract or subcontract. The pleadings also show that Broadwell, an employee of Universal Am-Can, hired Johnson. Universal Am-Can admitted Johnson was acting as a qualified driver on its behalf. A bill of lading in the supplemental record shows that truck ...

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