Supreme Court Summaries
Opinions filed March 22, 2012
Simpkins v. CSX Transportation, Inc., 2012 IL 110662
Appellate citation: 401 Ill. App. 3d 1109.
JUSTICE GARMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Karmeier and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.
Justice Freeman dissented, with opinion, joined by Justice Burke.
Justice Thomas took no part in the decision.
In 2007, a few months after filing the Madison County complaint at issue here, plaintiff’s decedent, her mother, died of mesothelioma cancer. It was alleged that, between 1958 and 1964, the decedent was exposed to asbestos brought home by her husband on his body and on his work clothes. Various employers for whom the husband had worked were also originally named as defendants, but only CSX Transportation, Inc. (successor to the B&O Railroad), is involved in this appeal.
The complaint alleged negligence, wanton and willful conduct, and strict liability, but the defense argued that, as a matter of law, no duty was owed to a third party, such as this spouse, who was not an employee. The circuit court granted the defense motion to dismiss with prejudice, but also allowed an interlocutory appeal.
In the appellate court, a different result was reached. That reviewing body found that the complaint sufficiently stated “a cause of action to establish a duty of care” and remanded. The defendant appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.
In this decision, the supreme court said that the question of duty for purposes of the negligence claim was not simply a matter of whether or not the injured spouse worked for the defendant (the view taken by the employer), but of whether defendant employer could have reasonably foreseen that its actions would cause this injury. Although the complaint alleged that the defendant knew or should have known that there was an unreasonable risk of harm to the worker’s wife, the supreme court held that the complaint was indeed insufficient to show a duty of care because it failed to allege specific facts as to what the defendant actually knew, or should have known, between 1958 and 1964. The allegations as to the foreseeability element of duty were, thus, conclusory.
However, a complaint should not be dismissed unless it is clearly apparent that no set of facts can be proved that would entitle the plaintiff to recover. In the circuit court, the defense had raised no issue as to what was known at the time about secondhand exposure to asbestos and what information the defendant could reasonably be held accountable for knowing. Had this been done, the plaintiff could have requested an opportunity to replead in greater detail.
The appellate court’s remand was affirmed, for different reasons. In the circuit court, the plaintiff should be allowed to amend the complaint to plead more specific facts.