Plaintiff denied joinder in separate five-year-old car accident lawsuits

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Feb 27, 2014

Madison County Circuit Judge William Mudge has denied a woman’s motion for joinder in two 2007 auto accidents that happened four days apart.

According to the complaint filed in January 2009, Sonji Palmer alleges her vehicle was rear-ended by defendant Justin Pfeiffer’s vehicle while driving westbound on Illinois Route 140 on Feb. 2, 2007. She claims she reduced her speed to accommodate a slower moving vehicle in front of her when Pfeiffer hit her vehicle.

Palmer’s second auto accident, occurring four days after her accident with Pfeiffer occurred in St. Clair County involving Fathiyyah Salahuddin. She originally filed the lawsuit in St. Clair County, where Judge Lloyd Cueto denied her motion to join Salahuddin with defendant Pfeiffer.

Palmer voluntarily dismissed the St. Clair County case and refiled the lawsuit in Madison County, which was assigned to Circuit Judge Andreas Matoesian, the order states.

On Aug. 2, 2013, Matoesian granted Salahuddin’s motion to transfer venue back to St. Clair County.

Now, more than seven years later, Palmer seeks to join the two cases in Madison County.

Palmer filed her motion for joinder on Dec. 9, 2013, through attorney Jon Rosenstengel of the law offices of Bonifield & Rosenstengel in Belleville. She claims her suit against Salahuddin is proper in Madison County.

Palmer further argues that if tried separately, the defense would argue the uncertainty of injuries resulting from each occurrence.

“If Fathiyyah Salahuddin is not added as a defendant in the instant case, the merits of plaintiff’s case against her will essentially be argued and brought to judgment within the instant case, and moreover, there cannot be a complete determination of the controversy in his absence," the joinder motion states.

Mudge filed his order denying the motion on Feb. 18 stating that “joinder of separate causes is permissible where separate acts of defendants in question produce single indivisible injury, or where one defendant causes injury and another defendant exacerbates that same injury.”

He wrote that the court understands Palmer’s dilemma in risking two separate trials when the lawsuits concern similar injuries that her treating physician had difficulty separating between the two accidents.

Palmer alleges she developed post traumatic stress disorder symptoms related to both accidents as well as physical injuries.

On the other hand, Pfeiffer claims the doctrine of res judicata bars joinder, alleging Palmer returned to work for a couple of days between the two accidents, which should distinguish the two claims from one another.

Mudge wrote that “the doctrine of res judicata provides that a final judgment on the merits rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction bars any subsequent actions between the same parties or their privies on the same cause of action. Res judicata bars not only what was actually decided in the first action but also whatever could have been decided.”

For res judicata to apply, Mudge listed the three requirements that must be satisfied:

- A final judgment on the merits has been rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction

- An identity of cause of action exists

- The parties or their privies are identical in both actions.

“Those requirements are not met here,” Mudge wrote, “and because the plaintiff went back to work between the accidents for ‘maybe for like two or three days, but no longer than that’ also is unpersuasive.”

Further, Mudge stated that he was not comfortable joining the cases, which would “essentially repudiate the prior rulings” of Cueto and Matoesian.

“This case has been pending before this court for five years, and it appears that the issues presented by the two auto accidents being only four days apart were either apparent or should have been appreciated by the plaintiff several years ago, or even upon the filing of her complaint in Jan. 2009 – almost two years after the Feb. 2007 accidents. The case has been set and reset for case management conference 21 times spanning three judges since its filing on Jan. 23, 2009,” Mudge wrote.

“Given the procedural history of this and the other files, this court will not join Fathiyyah Salahuddin to this suit at this late juncture.”

Palmer seeks a judgment of more than $50,000.

William Holland of Fox, Goldblatt & Singer represents Palmer.

Christopher Hantla of Hanla & Hantla in Litchfield represents Pfeiffer.

Madison County Circuit Court case number 09-L-47

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