Illinois Appellate Court Upholds Reduction of Plaintiff’s Damages Award in Car Accident Case Based on Insurance Payment Setoff

shots of whiskeyEven if you are successful in proving that a defendant is liable for your injuries, there may be certain legal issues that arise regarding the amount of compensation that the jury awards in your case. As seasoned Chicago car accident lawyers, we have handled many trials involving disputed damages awards. As a recent appellate opinion demonstrates, settlement agreements can play a big role in determining the amount of compensation that you should receive following a successful verdict.

In the action, the plaintiff suffered injuries when she was involved in a car accident. The defendant’s vehicle crossed over the center lane and struck the plaintiff’s vehicle. Evidence indicated that the defendant had been consuming alcoholic beverages at a local liquor establishment. In her amended complaint, the plaintiff sought both compensatory and punitive damages and included a cause of action based on Illinois’ Dram Shop Act. This statute is designed to hold liquor establishments liable where they over-serve a patron and allow the patron to drive away from the establishment. Not all states have a Dram Shop Act, and each state has taken a slightly different approach to crafting the rules and requirements for satisfying a claim brought pursuant to the statute.

At some point in the litigation, the plaintiff settled her claim with the intoxicated driver and received a check in the amount of $50,000. The remaining defendant, an insurance company, filed an affirmative defense, claiming a setoff in the amount of $50,000 against any judgment entered against the defendant.

Prior to the trial, the plaintiff and the liquor establishment entered into a formal agreement called a stipulation, stating that if the matter proceeded to trial on the dram shop claim, the jury would award $61,151.30 to the plaintiff. This award did not take into account a damages cap in the dram shop statute or the settlement with the driver. The matter proceeded to the dram shop claim, and the plaintiff asked the court to enter an order granting her the full amount, while the defendant requested a setoff. The court allowed the setoff and entered a judgment of $11,151.30 in the plaintiff’s favor. The plaintiff appealed, arguing that a setoff was not appropriate because dram shop owners are not entitled to indemnity and that the purpose of the dram shop law is to punish establishments that violate its provisions.

On appeal, the court phrased the issue as whether the classic rule of tort law that prohibits a plaintiff from receiving a double recovery applies when one of the tortfeasors is liable for violations of the dram shop law. The reviewing court ultimately rejected the plaintiff’s argument, relying on prior case law interpreting the statute and finding that the penal nature of the statute did not provide a basis for awarding the entire judgment to the plaintiff as a punitive damages award.

If you or a loved one has been involved in a car accident, you may be entitled to compensation. At Therman Law Offices, we have assisted families throughout Chicago and Illinois with holding a negligent driver responsible for the physical and financial injuries that they caused. We offer a free consultation to assist you with learning more about your legal options and how our team of legal professionals can help you. Call us now at 773-545-8849 or contact us online to get started.

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