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Robison v. Orthotic & Prosthetic Lab, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fifth District

February 4, 2015

RANDY ROBISON, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
ORTHOTIC & PROSTHETIC LAB, INC., Defendant-Appellant

Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 08-L-601. Honorable Vincent J. Lopinot, Judge, presiding.

SYLLABUS

In a product liability action where settlement negotiations were started and an agreement was ostensibly reached during a period when defendant had no knowledge of plaintiff's death or the appointment of a personal representative throughout the negotiations and plaintiff's counsel acknowledged that the disclosure would have had an adverse impact on the value of the settlement and that the decision to withhold the information was in his client's best interest, the appellate court held that plaintiff's counsel intentionally concealed a material fact that would have reduced the value of plaintiff's claim for damages and that the trial court erred in granting plaintiff's motion to enforce it; therefore, the order was vacated and the cause was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings, and, furthermore, the clerk of the appellate court was directed to transmit a copy of the appellate court's opinion in this case to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission for consideration of the actions of the attorneys in this case.

For Appellant: James L. Smith, Kamykowski, Gavin & Smith, PC, St. Louis, MO.

For Appellee: Mark C. Scoggins, Clay B. St. Clair, Anthony P. Gilbreth, Crowder & Scoggins, Ltd., Columbia, IL.

PRESIDING JUSTICE CATES delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Chapman and Schwarm concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

Page 183

Judy L. Cates, J.

[¶1] The defendant, Orthotic & Prosthetic Lab, Inc., appeals from an order of the circuit court granting a motion to enforce a settlement agreement in a product liability action. The defendant contends that the settlement agreement is invalid because the attorneys who purportedly represented the plaintiff during settlement negotiations lacked the authority to negotiate a settlement where the plaintiff had died and a proper representative of the estate had not been substituted as the party plaintiff. The defendant also contends that the settlement agreement is invalid because the attorneys who purportedly represented the plaintiff during settlement negotiations failed to disclose the material fact that the plaintiff had died eight months prior to the commencement of the negotiations. For the reasons that follow, we vacate the order granting the motion to enforce the settlement and remand the cause for further proceedings.

[¶2] On November 24, 2008, the plaintiff, Randy Robison, through his attorneys, Crowder & Scoggins, Ltd. (the Crowder firm), filed a product liability action in the circuit court of St. Clair County against the defendant, Orthotic & Prosthetic Lab, Inc. The plaintiff alleged that he suffered serious injuries when a prosthesis, which was designed, manufactured, and sold by the defendant, failed while he was using it for its intended purposes. He sought damages for personal injuries, pain and suffering, and past and future medical expenses. The defendant, through its attorneys, Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale, P.C. (the Greensfelder firm), appeared, and the case proceeded on the usual path with motions, discovery, and disclosures of expert witnesses. In March 2013, the trial court noted that there had been little activity in the case between December 2012 and March 2013. The court also scheduled a status conference for April 29, 2013. The status conference was continued and rescheduled for July 1, 2013. The attorneys of record appeared on that date, and the court scheduled the case for a trial in October 2013.

[¶3] In September 2013, the attorneys of record, James Smith, an attorney with the

Page 184

Greensfelder firm, and Anthony Gilbreth, an attorney with the Crowder firm, began settlement negotiations via email, and the email communications are a part of the record. On September 19, 2013, Mr. Smith emailed a final offer to settle the case for a sum certain to Mr. Gilbreth. In an email dated September 24, 2013, Mr. Gilbreth provided the following response: " My client has instructed me to accept [amount redacted] in full and final settlement of this matter. Please provide an appropriate release and I will present it to my client for review and approval."

[¶4] On October 24, 2013, the court was notified that a settlement had been reached, and that the settlement documents were being drafted. The case was continued pending the ...


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