Illinois Appellate Court Affirms: Third-Party Defendant Not Liable in Auto Accident; Ponto v. Levan

In this case, the defendant, Dale Levan, admitted liability for an auto accident that left a woman, Denise Ponto, injured. The verdict on damages was $585,174, but the defendant had only $100,000 in liability insurance. The plaintiff tried to collect the rest of the money from the city of Dixon, where the accident occurred. The jury had decided that the city was 35 percent at fault for causing the accident.

But the plaintiff’s error was that she did not try to add the city as a direct defendant within one year of the filing, as required under Section 8-10(a) of the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act. Dixon’s culpability was a question for the jury because the defendant promptly filed a contribution claim against the municipality when he was sued.

The trial judge concluded that the law barred Ponto’s claim against Dixon and the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed that ruling. Both the plaintiff and the defendant argued that a third-party defendant (in this case the city) who is more than 25 percent at fault is jointly and severally liable to the plaintiff for all damages, based on Section 2-117 of the Code of Civil Procedure. Section 2-117 specifies the rules on joint liability for all defendants found liable in tort cases involving bodily injury, death or property damage. Ponto reasoned that the reference to “all defendants found liable” meant that Dixon was jointly liable for her damages.

Both the defendant and plaintiff also argued that the Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Act, including Section 3, which governs contribution claims where “the obligation of one of more of the joint tortfeasors is uncollectable” should not be interpreted as shielding Dixon, even though the defendant did not pay more than his pro rata share of the judgment (65 percent of $585,174 or $380,363.)
The 2nd District affirmed the lower court ruling, explaining that “the trial court did not err in entering judgment such that the city’s contribution responsibility was triggered only if Levan paid more than his pro rata share of the judgment to Ponto (and only for that amount paid to her in excess of his pro rata share of the judgment).”
The case stems from an accident in February 2008, when Ponto was driving along Route 2 in Dixon and Levan’s vehicle crossed the lane of traffic and crashed into Ponto’s vehicle. As a result, Ponto sustained a comminuted knee fracture and needed to be airlifted to Rockford’s St. Anthony Hospital for treatment. A comminuted fracture occurs when a bone is broken in several places, which then requires an open reduction internal fixation surgery with the insertion of screws and plates to help fix the broken bones in place.

Ponto’s treatment was further complicated by her development of deep vein thrombosis, i.e. blood clots, and cellulitis, a skin infection caused by bacteria. As a result of the lengthy treatment, Ponto missed five months from her job as a bartender.

Ponto filed a personal injury lawsuit against Levan in which she claimed damages for the injuries she sustained after his truck skidded into her lane of traffic. And while Levan admitted he was drunk at the time and was at fault for the car accident, he claimed the City of Dixon was also at fault. Levan contended that the ice which his car skidded on was the result of a broken city water main.

The defendant then filed a third party claim against the City of Dixon for its part in causing the auto accident and Ponto’s injuries. To support his claim against the city, Levan presented evidence that showed that the city had known that the water main was broken prior to the car crash yet had not replaced the broken water main until after Ponto was injured.

Levan used this evidence to support his claim that the city had failed to properly inspect and repair the water pipes running under Route 2 prior to the accident and that its failure to do so had led to the formation of the ice patch which Levan’s vehicle skid on. Under this theory of liability, since the city had contributed to the cause of the Illinois car accident, Levan argued that it should also be held at least partially responsible for Ponto’s injuries.

Ponto v. Levan 2012 IL App (2nd) 110355 (June 27, 2012).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling automobile crashes, truck accidents and catastrophic personal injuries for individuals and families for more than 36 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including, Blue Island, Morton Grove, Chicago (Little Village), Chicago (Bronzeville), Bensenville, Elmhurst, Northlake and Schiller Park, Illinois.

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Third-Party Defendant Held Responsible for Ice Patch That Caused Car Accident – Ponto v. Levan