Querrey & Harrow attorneys Thomas BurkeDavid Lewin and Aaron DeAngelis persuaded The Illinois Appellate Court, Third District, to reverse a contribution judgment in excess of $14 million entered against their trucking company client. The judgment, entered on September 12, 2014, arose out of a separate contribution trial. The main action, consisting of three consolidated cases, resulted in a total judgment of $23,775,000 against Querrey & Harrow's trucking company client, its driver, and co-defendant CH Robinson.

The driver was involved in a multivehicle rear-end accident resulting in two deaths and various serious injuries. The driver was clearly at fault and operating under the DOT authority of the defendant trucking company. Both the driver and trucking company admitted agency and liability. 

The primary issue in the main action was whether the driver was the agent of CH Robinson, which had brokered the cargo. The trial court rejected CH Robinson’s request for apportionment of liability, reasoning that the driver was the only party that was at fault in fact, and that CH Robinson's and the trucking company's liability, was strictly vicarious.

However, the trial court also severed the contribution claim before verdict and it was tried separately, resulting in a 50/50 apportionment of liability and a judgment of $14,326,665.54 in contribution and post-judgment interest against the trucking company.

The trial court rejected arguments that because the driver was the only party at fault in fact, and all other parties were only vicariously liable for the driver's fault, that the prior trial court had correctly determined that liability could not be apportioned. Based on this, the judge in the contribution action allowed CH Robinson to apportion over $14 million in damages to the trucking company.

On appeal, Querrey & Harrow argued that the trial court had deviated from the Contribution Act in order to impose a decision that the trial court viewed as "fair." Querrey & Harrow urged the appellate court to follow the law as written, as both Querrey & Harrow’s client and CH Robinson were not at fault for the accident. Only the driver was at fault. Because the fault of both parties was "zero," Querrey & Harrow’s client’s pro rata share would also be zero. The appellate court agreed, finding that where two parties are vicariously liable for the act of the same party, there could be no contribution.

The case is Sperl, et al. v Henry, et al., 2017 IL App (3d) 150097 

*** The reader is cautioned that the time for rehearing or further appeal remains open as of the time of this publication. ***