Personal Injury

U.S. District Court Finds Relation Back Doctrine Applied in Truck Crash Case

The plaintiff, William Kleronomos, filed a two-count complaint against William Sackmaster, claiming negligence in causing a 2014 vehicular crash in Chicago. Sackmaster’s employer, Aim Transfer & Storage, was also sued for vicarious liability. Kleronomos uncovered evidence in discovery that Sackmaster allegedly failed “multiple drug tests,” caused several other crashes, was rehired after being fired for … Continued

The plaintiff, William Kleronomos, filed a two-count complaint against William Sackmaster, claiming negligence in causing a 2014 vehicular crash in Chicago. Sackmaster’s employer, Aim Transfer & Storage, was also sued for vicarious liability. Kleronomos uncovered evidence in discovery that Sackmaster allegedly failed “multiple drug tests,” caused several other crashes, was rehired after being fired for “chronic drug use” and had repeatedly “blacked out on the road.”

But the defendant, Aim, argued that the set of new claims Kleronomos pursued against it in 2019 for compensatory and punitive damages, based on alleged willful and wanton misconduct in hiring Sackmaster (Count III of that Amended Complaint), letting him drive its truck (Count IV), and retaining him as an employee (Count V), were barred by the statute of limitations.

The relation back statute did not apply, according to Aim, because Kleronomos’s “employment claims are separate and distinct from the original negligence claims.”

The defendants removed the case to the federal district court in Chicago based on diversity of citizenship. The U.S. District Court Judge Mary M. Rowland applied the Illinois “sufficiently close relationship test,” rejecting Aim’s argument as “overly technical.”

Kleronomos was a citizen of Illinois while the defendant Aim is a Wisconsin trucking company; the defendant, Sackmaster, is a resident of Wisconsin. At some point, before March 6, 2014, Aim hired Sackmaster as a truck driver. On March 6, 2014, while Sackmaster was driving a truck as part of his employment with Aim, Sackmaster and Kleronomos were involved in a crash in Chicago. Kleronomos suffered extensive injuries.

On March 2, 2016, Kleronomos filed a personal injury lawsuit against Aim and Sackmaster in Illinois state court. In the state court complaint, Kleronomos alleged general negligence against Aim and Sackmaster as its agent.

On Feb. 19, 2019, the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed his state court case pursuant to the Illinois statute 735 ILCS 5/2-1009. Kleronomos refiled the state court claim on Feb. 20, 2019. Aim then removed the case to the federal district court on March 15, 2019, asserting diversity of citizenship.

On April 9, 2019, Kleronomos filed his first amended complaint. The amended complaint added a third count for willful and wanton conduct arising out of Aim’s employment relationship with Sackmaster. Months later, on Oct. 14, 2019, the plaintiff amended Count III in a second amended complaint to seek punitive damages.

Finally, on Dec. 31, 2019, Kleronomos filed a third amended complaint alleging three separate willful and wanton counts:  hiring (Count III), willful and wanton entrustment (Count IV) and willful and wanton retention (Count V).

In the third amended complaint, Kleronomos alleged that Aim knew that Sackmaster was unfit to drive a truck commercially, based on the evaluations and reviews from former employers, the fact that Sackmaster had failed multiple drug tests while on duty with Aim, Sackmaster had several “at fault” automobile accidents while working for Aim, had been terminated by Aim for chronic drug use and then rehired in violation of Aim’s own policy, and had repeatedly “‘blacked out on the road’ and experienced a ‘loss of consciousness behind the wheel….’”

Aim then moved to dismiss Count III, IV and V as being time-barred. For some reason Aim argued that both Illinois and Wisconsin law applied. There is no clear reason why Wisconsin law would apply in the case and thus Illinois law was applied. Furthermore, Aim did not demonstrate any conflicts regarding the substantive law of the two states such as the application of the statute of limitations, the states’ respective relation-back doctrines or the underlying, substantive employment claims.  Because Aim had not met its burden, the court applied the law of the foreign state, Illinois.

Besides the statute of limitations, the plaintiff’s state law claim would be barred unless they were saved through application of either the relation-back rule of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 15(c) or equitable tolling, see e.g., Donald v. Cook County Sheriff’s Department, 95 F.3d 548 (7th Cir. 1996).

In this case, the applicable limitations law is Illinois law. Section 2-616(b) of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure codifies a rule for relation-back of newly asserted claims that is essentially the same as the federal rule. See Henderson v. Bolanda, 253 F.3d 928 (7th Cir. 2001).

The Illinois Supreme Court has adopted the “sufficiently close relationship test,” pursuant to which, if “there is a ‘sufficiently close relationship’ between the original and new claims, both in temporal proximity and the general character of sets of factual allegations and where the facts are all part of the events leading up to the originally alleged injury,” relation back will apply.

The court thus concluded that the proposed amendment satisfied the test and should have been allowed in this case.

Here, Aim argued that Counts III, IV, and V are time-barred because the conduct at issue, the hiring, entrustment, and retention of Sackmaster did not have a sufficiently close relationship with the original negligence claims. Aim also argued that Counts I and II only involve Sackmaster’s driving on the day of the accident, whereas Counts III, IV, and V involve Sackmaster’s medical and employment history.

The federal district court disagreed with Aim’s arguments and found that there was a “sufficiently close relationship” between plaintiff’s original negligence claim and his new willful and wanton hiring, entrustment, and retention claims, both in temporal proximity and in the general character of the factual allegations applicable to both.

Moreover, the facts applicable to plaintiff’s employment claims are part of the events leading up to the incident in which plaintiff was severely injured by Sackmaster’s negligent driving. As evidenced by the case of Porter v. Decatur Memorial Hospital, 882 N.E. 2d 583 (Ill. 2008), the federal district court stated that Aim’s overly technical argument that plaintiff’s employment claims were separate and distinct from his original negligence claims did not pass muster under Illinois’ relation-back jurisprudence. The federal district court judge denied Aim’s statute of limitations argument and denied its motion to dismiss the third amended complaint.

Kleronomos v. Aim Transfer & Storage, No. 19 C 01844.

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