Matt Bing and Josh Patrick Defeat Motion for Good Faith Finding to Maintain Third-Party Complaint Against Culpable Tortfeasor
In this case, Matt Bing and Josh Patrick represent a small “corner store” business whose premises were vandalized when a drunk driver drove into their store during business hours, violently striking a customer inside and causing her a closed head injury and several broken bones. The driver later pled guilty to felony DUI causing bodily injury and driving on a suspended license. The patron that was struck filed suit against the drunk driver for automobile negligence and against our client for premises liability, modeling her theory of liability after the Illinois Supreme Court case of Marshall v. Burger King, which held that a restaurant owed its patron a duty of care to protect its patrons from an out-of-control motorist that struck the store.
Before filing an Answer, the drunk driver settled with the plaintiff for the limits of his available automobile liability coverage. Our investigation revealed that the drunk driver had a history of prior DUI’s and was borrowing his vehicle from an acquaintance, so we filed a Third-Party Complaint for Contribution against the vehicle owner, sounding in negligent entrustment for loaning her vehicle to the drunk driver.
The vehicle owner filed a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Good Faith Finding, arguing that even though Plaintiff had not sued her directly, her auto insurer was defending and indemnifying the driver and her liability was released by the Plaintiff via an executed Release. She also argued that her auto policy’s liability limits were the most she was legally obligated to pay.
We opposed that motion, arguing that the drunk driver’s prior Motion for Good Faith Finding expressly averred that he was the party settling with the Plaintiff, and the vehicle owner paid no additional consideration supporting a settlement. The Court agreed with our position and denied the Motion for Good Faith Finding, holding that there had been no legal settlement between the Plaintiff and the vehicle owner.
This is a significant victory, in that Illinois Courts often “rubber stamp” motions for good faith finding and give settling parties the benefit of the doubt. Here, even if the vehicle owner has no additional liability coverage, keeping her in the case (and on the verdict form if the case proceeds to trial) allows us to minimize our client’s exposure and expand the universe of available liability defenses by arguing that a party more culpable than our client remains in the case.