Supreme Court Summaries


Opinions filed December 13, 2012


 

Hernandez v. Pritikin, 2012 IL 113054

Appellate citation: 2011 IL App (1st) 102646.

 

      JUSTICE KARMEIER delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

      Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Freeman, Thomas, Garman, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

 

      The plaintiff in this refiled legal malpractice action, Jesse Hernandez, developed Parkinson’s disease, allegedly as the result of his exposure to chemicals at Central Steel and Wire Company, where he worked from 1968 to 1995. His 2004 strict product liability and negligence lawsuit seeking tort-damages recovery from various companies involved in the manufacture and sale of those chemicals had been dismissed in 2005 as time-barred.

      From 1995 to 1996, Hernandez was represented by the law firm of Spector & Lenz, which filed a social security disability claim for him. From 1999 to 2002, he was represented by defendant attorneys, Bernstein, Grazian and Volpe, who filed a 1999 workers’ compensation claim, alleging chemical exposure at work. A third law firm was retained in 2004 and filed the above-referenced Cook County circuit court suit for civil damage recovery, which was subsequently dismissed as time-barred.

      The suit at issue here initially alleged that the defendant Bernstein firm should have advised the plaintiff that he had other ways to recover beyond seeking the workers’ compensation benefits that it pursued for him. After a dismissal with leave to amend, the complaint was amended to add a charge that defendant attorneys were professionally negligent for failing to file a legal malpractice action against the Spector law firm for its failure to file a product liability suit on plaintiff’s behalf at a time when that claim was still viable. This complaint was later voluntarily dismissed and then refiled. Over the course of all these proceedings, several different judges had made rulings in the case, offering various opinions as to when, under the discovery rule, the plaintiff had acquired the knowledge which would start the running of the statute of limitations. In 2009, these defendants sought a dismissal, claiming that the matter had become res judicata, and they were successful in the circuit court, but the appellate court reversed. Although the supreme court affirmed the appellate court in this decision, it did not follow the appellate court’s reasoning. Res judicata is something that must be proved by the parties claiming it, and the defendants failed to do so. The elements of res judicata are not established here, and the oral remarks made by these judges in making various rulings were insufficient to establish the finality of a judgment which is essential to res judicata.

      The matter should proceed in the circuit court on remand.