The Illinois Supreme Court is convening in Springfield for its March term.
The justices will hear arguments in 13 cases this month that present the court with six civil, three criminal and three matters dealing with minors.
None of the cases come from the Fifth District Appellate Court, although the underlying matter in one of the civil cases was originally filed in Madison County.
Five of the six civil cases will be heard on March 19. They range in topic from interim attorneys’ fees and tax penalties to liability under the Emergency Medical Services Systems Act and an insurance company’s duty to defend.
At issue in Standard Mutual Insurance Co. v. Norma Lay, et al. is whether the insurance company has a duty to defend its insured, a real estate agency that was sued for violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) by sending unsolicited faxes.
In 2006, Ted Lay Real Estate Agency faxed an advertisement about the sale of a property to Locklear Electric, Inc. The recipient did not give permission to send the fax, a violation of the TCPA, which imposes a $500 penalty for each unsolicited fax.
Lay was sued in 2009 in a class action suit that was filed in Madison County Circuit Court and later removed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. Locklear served as class representative.
Defense of the claim was tendered to Standard, which undertook the defense under a reservation of rights and filed a declaratory judgment action to find out its coverage under its policies.
The claim against Lay, according to the Fourth District Appellate Court opinion, “was a potential multi-million dollar claim, which would bankrupt the agency if a verdict was entered against it and it was not covered by insurance.”
The opinion notes that Lay had sent 3,478 unsolicited faxes between June 1 and June 30, 2006.
Lay retained independent counsel to represent it in the suit and then settled with the class action plaintiff for about $1.7 million plus costs and assigned its rights to the insurance company to the class.
After a federal judge approved the settlement in 2010, Standard filed a declaratory judgment action in Macoupin County Circuit Court. By April 2011, both parties filed for summary judgment.
The circuit court ruled in favor of Standard, spurring Locklear to appeal. A panel of the Fourth District Appellate Court affirmed the lower court.
"We find that the $500 in liquated damages provided in the TCPA is a penalty and is in the nature of punitive damages,” the appeals panel held in its opinion. “They are not insurable as a matter of Illinois law and public policy and are not recoverable from Standard.”
The state high court will also hear arguments this month in a case dealing with liability under the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) System Act, which protects paramedics and emergency medical technicians from negligence claims.
That case – Karen Wilkins v. Rhonda Williams, et al. – comes to the high court on appeal from the First District Appellate Court.
Williams, an employee of Superior Air-Ground Ambulance Service, was driving an ambulance in the non-emergency transport of a patient when she collided with Wilkins' vehicle.
Wilkins sustained serious injuries in the collision and filed a negligence suit against Williams and her employer in the Cook County Circuit Court.
The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, determining that the immunity provision of the EMS Act barred Wilkins’ suit because the plain and unambiguous language of the statute doesn’t limit immunity to actions toward patients and applies to acts involving third-parties as well.
Wilkins appealed and the First District Appellate Court reversed the lower court and remanded for further proceedings.
In its opinion, the appeals panel noted that“[t]his case is one of first impression since the parties have not presented, nor have we found, any Illinois cases addressing whether immunity under the EMS Act extends to actions affecting third parties.”
As such, the panel looked to the state’s Vehicle Code, which includes a provision addressing the duty of emergency vehicle operators toward other motorists.
While the Code allows emergency vehicle drivers to disregard some rules of the road in the course of their duties, the appellate court noted that it does not relieve these drivers “from the duty of driving with due regard for the safety of all persons.”
A full list of the cases set for arguments before the Supreme Court this month can be found in the March 2013 docket on the court’s website at state.il.us/court.