Wilson v. Edward Hospital, 2012 IL 112898 (Garman)
Facts: Plaintiff suffered a broken femur and was transported to defendant Edward Hospital where he underwent surgery to repair the broken bone. During the procedure he aspirated vomit into his lungs which caused cardiac arrest and sresulted in an anoxic brain injury. Plaintiff filed suit against the hospital and two doctors and their resepctive practice groups alleging negligence in the failure to provide sufficient fasting time prior to the procedure. Plaintiff alleged that the doctors were agents of the hospital under both actual and apparent agency theories. The two doctors filed motions for summary judgment on the issue of agency and the trial court granted summary judgment on the issue of actual agency but denied the motion and found issues of material fact on the issue of apparent agency. Plaintiff subsequently filed a voluntary dismissal and then re-filed the case alleging apparent agency in the re-filed complaint. The defendant moved to dismiss the re-filed complaint arguing that the finding of summary judgment on the actual agency theory was an adjudication on the merits of the cause of action and served to bar the apparent agency count pursuant to res judicata and the prohibition on claim splitting. The trial court denied the motion but permitted a certified question pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 308 as to whether actual agency and apparent agency are separate claims for purposes of res judicata and the prohibition against claim-splitting. The appellate court answered the certified question in the affirmative and dismissed the case. The Plaintiff appeals the finding of the appellate court.
Holding: Actual and apparent agency are not causes of action, but rather are merely part of the duty analysis in case where the plaintiff seeks to hold the principal liable for the agent’s alleged negligence, and therefore, the plaintiff’s re-filed claim against the hospital for apparent agency is not barred by res judicata or prohibited by the rule against claim splitting.
Filed in Trial Book Under: Res Judicata; Voluntary Dismissal; Agancy
Commentary: This case comes as a welcome relief to plaintiffs and makes a lot of sense. Since the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hudson v. City of Chicago, the plaintiff’s bar has become somewhat paranoid of filing for a non-suit in cases where a summary judgment or motion to dismiss had been granted out of fear that somehow they would be foreclosing a claim that “could have been brought prior to the adjudication on the merits.” The prohibition against claim splitting is predicated upon avoiding endless litigation where a plaintiff continues to bring cause of action after casue of action when all of them could have been brought at once. Therefore, once there has been an adjudication on the merits in a cause of action then any other cause of action that could have been brought from the facts is subject to res judicata in the event of a nonsuit and re-filing of the case. In this case, the plaintiff argued that there was only one cause of action against the hospital, that of negligence based upon vicarious liability, and proving the doctors were agents of the hospital was just one step in the process of establishing the hospital’s liability, and thus the claim was not barred by res judicata. While the hospital, on the other hand, argued that actual and apparent agency are separate and distinct causes of action and therefore the summary judgment on the actual agency counts served to bar any re-filing of claims that could have been brought in the original action. Fortunately, the Supreme Court concluded that actual and apparent agency are not causes of action and therefore the re-filed claims were not barred.