Illinois Appellate Court Affirms Negligent, Willful and Wanton Misconduct When Individual Beats Plaintiff with Briefcase After Encounter on Roadway

A jury found that the defendant Charles Dahms acted negligently and with willful and wanton misconduct against the plaintiff, Terry Enadeghe, when he beat him with his briefcase during a morning encounter on the street. Dahms appealed arguing that the trial judge erred in relying on his prior criminal conviction for battery as a basis for liability and in denying jury instructions and special interrogatories. Furthermore, the defendant contended that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the defendant’s motions for mistrial and permitting the plaintiff to amend his complaint.

On March 20, 2013, following a criminal jury trial, defendant Dahms was found guilty of aggravated battery on a public way, 720 ILCS 5/12-3.05(c), for the incident in this case. He was sentenced to eighteen months’ probation.  On appeal, the criminal conviction was affirmed. The Illinois Supreme Court denied the defendant’s petition for leave to appeal and the U.S. Supreme Court denied his petition for certiorari.

The evidence in the criminal case showed that in October 2011, Enadeghe was driving his taxicab in downtown Chicago when he stopped at a traffic light in the middle of the crosswalk, unintentionally blocking it.  Dahms, the defendant, then approached and smashed his briefcase into the taxi’s front windshield shattering it and then walked away. Enadeghe parked and confronted Dahms, asking him to survey the damage to his cab. At one point, Enadeghe attempted to block Dahms and grabbed the briefcase.  Enadeghe, the plaintiff, then felt a “bang” on his face as Dahms took his briefcase once again, and using it to hit Enadeghe in the nose, knocked him unconscious.  Enadeghe was hospitalized and received eleven stitches from the bridge of his nose to under his eye. He later had surgery under general anesthesia. Dahms was subsequently arrested and Enadeghe identified him in a police lineup.

Dahms testified to a different version of the events; he said he “tapped” Enadeghe’s windshield in an effort to avoid being hit by the cab, which had improperly entered the intersection. Dahms said Enadeghe then followed him on foot. According to Dahms, Enadeghe then grabbed Dahms by his shirt and repeatedly grabbed the briefcase; Dahms said he ultimately pulled away, accidentally striking Enadeghe in the face.

In short, Dahms claimed that he did not intend to strike or injure Enadeghe. There were several witnesses who testified in favor of Enadeghe, including a CTA bus driver and another pedestrian. A surveillance video was also played to the jury capturing the initial events, but did not show the encounter leading to Enadeghe’s injury.

In addition to the criminal case, Enadeghe filed a civil lawsuit against Dahms. It was alleged that Dahms was both negligent and guilty of willful and wanton misconduct.  Dahms tried to keep out the criminal conviction with a motion in limine.  Dahms argued his criminal conviction was not final because he had filed a writ of certiorari before the U.S. Supreme Court and that the high court had not yet ruled on it.

The civil jury trial began after Dahms had testified as an adverse witness, but before Enadeghe presented his case, the trial court denied the defendant’s motion in limine, noting that the criminal conviction arose out of the same facts and circumstances as the civil case. The court ruled that the criminal battery conviction could be used as prima facie evidence of willful and wanton misconduct by Dahms, since the intent underlying both were the same, and the court ruled that the conviction’s probative value outweighed any prejudicial effect.

The civil trial then continued with much of the testimony mirroring the previous criminal case, with defendant Dahms testifying as an adverse witness called for cross-examination by the plaintiff. There was also testimony as to the damage incurred by Enadeghe, who underwent three reconstructive surgeries on his nose, and still will require additional surgery to revise a scar on his face. After Enadeghe rested as the plaintiff, Dahms also rested without presenting any evidence and rested on his counterclaim that alleged negligence and battery on the part of Enadeghe.

The jury found Dahms liable for $130,000 for medical expenses, disability, pain and suffering and disfigurement resulting from the injury to Enadeghe. In addition, the trial judge ruled that given Dahms’s criminal conviction, there was no trial issue remaining as to Dahms’s liability for negligence and willful and wanton misconduct. The court also ruled that Dahms was estopped from presenting instructions on his affirmative defenses and struck his counter complaint. The only issue before the jury concerned causation and damages; Dahms’s criminal conviction was not introduced to the jury.

Dahms filed a post-trial motion, which was denied, and then this appeal.

Dahms argued that the criminal conviction should not have been allowed and was a trial error. It was also argued that collateral estoppel is an equitable doctrine of judicial origin created to prevent relitigation of previously adjudicated claims and is founded on principles of judicial economy. Ballweg v. City of Springfield, 114 Ill.2d 107, 113 (1986). The appeals panel discussed the fact that criminal convictions can’t have an estoppel effect on civil litigation like this case when threshold requirements are met. The issue decided in the criminal case must be identical to that in a civil case, there must have been a judgment on the merits in the criminal case and the party against whom the estoppel is asserted must have been a party to the prior adjudication. Savickas, 193 Ill.2d at 387.

Here, the evidence presented at the criminal trial demonstrated that Enadeghe satisfied the less stringent civil elements of duty, breach, causation and intent to harm necessary for a finding of negligence and willful and wanton misconduct. The appellate court stated that the evidence showed Dahms failed to exercise ordinary care in his handling of the briefcase, causing injury to Enadeghe, and his actions also showed a reckless and/or deliberate intent to injure plaintiff. Collateral estoppel thus barred Dahms from relitigating the matter and the trial court did not err in submitting only the issue of damages to the jury at this civil trial.

The argument was denied concerning the doctrine of collateral estoppel because there was no finality. The appeals panel found that even though the U.S. Supreme Court had not yet denied his petition for certiorari when his civil jury trial took place, the Illinois Supreme Court had already denied leave to appeal. Because Dahms’s potential for appellate review was exhausted when the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari, his conviction was therefore final. The Illinois Supreme Court has held in the past that for the purpose of applying the doctrine of collateral estoppel, “finality requires that the potential for appellate review must have been exhausted.”

Even if the court were to consider error to apply collateral estoppel prior to the certiorari denial, the appeals panel agreed with Enadeghe that any error was harmless. The appeals panel also agreed it was not an error to allow Enadeghe to amend his complaint to include willful and wanton misconduct as his Count II. Dahms made an assertion that he was prejudiced without a developed argument or supporting authority, thus waiving that contention. Regardless, Section 2-616 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-616) explicitly authorizes a plaintiff to amend a complaint for just reason any time before or after final judgment to conform pleadings to be proof.

Given that civil battery was alleged in the initial complaint, and the existence of Dahms’s criminal conviction, we can see no prejudice in permitting the amended pleading. Dahms could easily have anticipated a theory of negligence and willful and wanton misconduct, i.e., intentional or reckless misconduct. Based on the appeals panel’s ruling set forth in this decision, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Dahms’s motion for mistrial. In addition, points not argued are waived and shall not be raised in the reply brief or on petition for rehearing. For the reasons stated, the appellate court affirmed the judgment of the trial judge.

Enadeghe v. Dahms, 2017 IL App (1st) 162170 (Dec. 13, 2017).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling automobile accident lawsuits, truck accident cases, pedestrian accident cases, bicycle accident cases and motorcycle injury lawsuits for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Merionette Park, Blue Island, Calumet Park, Robins, Crestwood, Harvey, Wheaton, Bedford Park, Hickory Hills, Chicago (Washington Heights, Roseland, East Side, South Deering, Stockyards, Canaryville, Bronzeville, Hyde Park, Jackson Park, Goose Island, Clybourn Corridor, Lincoln Park, North Center, Albany Park, Mayfair, Mont Clare, Galewood), Schiller Park, and Wood Dale, Ill.

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