Madison - St. Clair Record

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Permanent grief claims in trooper widow's wrongful death case open door to discovery

By The Madison County Record | Sep 30, 2015

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HILLSBORO – Sarah Deatherage, widow of state trooper Kyle Deatherage, must testify about her dating and social life, Montgomery County Circuit Judge Douglas Jarman ruled on Sept. 17.

He ordered her to answer questions she wouldn’t answer in June, at a deposition for her suit against the owners and the driver of a truck that hit her husband.

“I find that the plaintiff’s dating and social life since Kyle Deatherage’s death are relevant for discovery purposes, to the issue of claimed damages of permanent grief, mental anguish and depression,” Jarman wrote.

Kyle Deatherage died in 2012, on Interstate 55 in Montgomery County, as he approached a vehicle he had stopped.

In 2013, Sarah Deatherage sued Dot Food, its Dot Transportation subsidiary, and driver Johnny Felton in Madison County circuit court.

Her lawyer, Tom Keefe of Belleville, sought damages not only for pecuniary losses but also for permanent grief, mental anguish and depression.

Defendants moved to transfer the suit, and circuit judge Dennis Ruth denied it.

Last September, Fifth District judges ruled that Ruth should have transferred it.

They offered Deatherage a choice of courts among Montgomery, Brown and Sangamon counties.

Last October, Keefe and Deatherage made public statements opposing retention of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier.

At a press conference, Keefe expressed suspicion that Karmeier manipulated the Fifth District decision because Dot Foods contributed to his campaign.

Deatherage taped messages for robo calls against retention.

In November, voters retained Karmeier.

Deatherage chose to take her case to Montgomery County, and lawyers for all three defendants deposed her on June 29.

Felton’s lawyer, William Knapp of Edwardsville, asked her if she dated anyone since Kyle’s death.

Keefe objected and told her not to answer.

He told Knapp, “That’s none of your business.”

Knapp: “It’s absolutely relevant.”

Keefe: “You can take that up with the judge if you’re going to start prying into her personal life.”

Knapp said he’d be happy to take it up with the judge.

He asked Deatherage, “Who is A. J. Steele?”

She said he was a patient at the dental clinic where she worked.

Knapp asked if she had any other relationship with Steele.

Deatherage: “He’s my friend.”

Keefe objected and said, “How could that possibly be your business?”

Knapp said he would suspend his questioning subject to a ruling of the court.

In July, Knapp moved to compel responses.

He attached transcripts of debate at the Illinois House in 2007, over a bill adding grief, sorrow, and mental suffering to verdict forms in wrongful death trials.

When a lawmaker opposed to the bill asked how jurors would put a monetary award on grief, sponsor James Brosnahan said, “They would just have to listen to the evidence that is presented and make an informed decision as a group."

“That really depends on the evidence that is presented by the plaintiff and any evidence that the defense chooses to present as well,” he said.

Knapp wrote that the legislature intended that both sides would present evidence and a jury would decide.

On Sept. 8, Dot Transportation counsel Stephen Kaufmann of Springfield filed a brief supporting Felton’s motion.

He wrote that a review found no ruling on whether a surviving spouse’s romantic relationship is relevant to damages for grief, sorrow or mental suffering.

“Thus, the court is not restricted by any case law which would prohibit discovery of such a romantic relationship,” Kaufmann wrote.

“Plaintiff does not cite to any Illinois decisions that have barred evidence of a surviving spouse’s romantic relationship as a collateral source akin to insurance proceeds or Medicaid benefits.

“To allow the investigation of her sorrow, without allowing any inquiry into her ability to enter into and maintain a romantic relationship, limits the ability of defendants to inquire into an important element of damages.”

Jarman has set trial to start in October 2016.

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Organizations in this Story

Knapp, Ohl and GreenHeplerBroomKeefe & Keefe, P.C.Illinois Supreme CourtDot Foods