Best v. Taylor Mach. Works

Citation689 N.E.2d 1057,179 Ill.2d 367,228 Ill.Dec. 636
Decision Date18 December 1997
Docket NumberNos. 81890-81893,s. 81890-81893
Parties, 228 Ill.Dec. 636, Prod.Liab.Rep. (CCH) P 15,123 Vernon BEST, Appellee, v. TAYLOR MACHINE WORKS et al., Appellants. Jonathan ISBELL, Adm'r of the Estate of Steven A. Kelso, Appellee, v. UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY et al., Appellants.
CourtIllinois Supreme Court

John W. Hoffman and Michael Reda, Evans & Dixon, Edwardsville, for appellant Taylor Machine Works.

Karen L. Kendall, Peoria, and Robert H. Schultz, Jr., and Robert D. Rowland, Edwardsville, Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen, for appellant Lee Helms, Inc.

Timothy M. Palumbo, Chicago, and Gary S. Wolfe and John J. Pawloski, St. Louis, MO, Landau, Omahana & Kopka, P.C., for appellant Allied Industrial Equipment Corp.

Thomas E. Jones and Leslie G. Offergeld, Walker & Williams, P.C., Belleville, and Richard K. Willard, Thomas M. Barba and Brian J. Leske, Steptoe & Johnson, LLP, Washington, D.C., for appellants Union Pacific Railroad Co. and Donald F. Cain.

Jon G. Carlson and Eric J. Carlson, Carlson, Wendler & Associates, P.C., Edwardsville, Theodore R. Diaz and David W. Dugan, Pitts, Dugan & Diaz, Wood River, Charles R. Abele, St. Louis, MO, and Laurence H. Tribe, Cambridge, MA, for appellee Vernon Best.

Jon G. Carlson and Eric J. Carlson, Carlson, Wendler & Associates, P.C., Edwardsville, and Laurence H. Tribe, Cambridge, MA, for appellee Jonathan Isbell.

Barbara A. Preiner, Solicitor General, Chicago (Deborah L. Ahlstrand, A. Benjamin Goldgar and Laura M. Wunder, Assistant Attorneys General, of counsel), for intervenor James E. Ryan, Attorney General.

Joan M. Mannix and Margaret Pardo, Addison, for amicus curiae Breast Implant Information Exchange.

Kathy Byrne, Cooney & Conway, Chicago, for amici curiae Brotherhood of Heat & Frost Insulators, Local 17.

Ellen A. Yearwood, Springfield, for amicus curiae Illinois NOW Legal & Education Fund.

Tracey L. Meares, Chicago (Frederick H. Bates and Furmin D. Sessoms, of counsel), for amici curiae National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Justice McMORROW delivered the opinion of the court:

This consolidated appeal arises from two personal injury tort actions filed in the circuit court of Madison County, in which the plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief against enforcement of "An Act to amend certain Acts in relation to civil actions, * * * the Civil Justice Reform Amendments of 1995." Pub. Act 89-7, eff. March 9, 1995 (hereafter Public Act 89-7 or the Act). In both cases, plaintiffs sought partial summary judgment on the grounds that the Act violated the Illinois Constitution of 1970. The circuit court of Madison County held the following provisions of Public Act 89-7 unconstitutional: (1) the $500,000 limit on compensatory damages for noneconomic injuries (735 ILCS 5/2-1115.1 (West 1996)), (2) the allocation of fault and several liability provisions (735 ILCS 5/2-1116, 2-1117 (West 1996)), (3) the amendments to the Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Act (740 ILCS 100/3.5, 5 (West 1996)), (4) certain jury instructions (735 ILCS 5/2-1107.1 (West 1996)), (5) the product liability certificate of merit (735 ILCS 5/2-623 (West 1996)), (6) the product liability statute of repose (735 ILCS 5/13-213(b) (West 1996)), (7) the product liability presumptions (735 ILCS 5/2-2103, 2-2104, 2-2106 (West 1996)) and (8) the discovery statutes which require mandatory disclosure of all of plaintiffs' medical information and records (735 ILCS 5/2-1003, 8-802, 8-2001, 8-2003 (West 1996)). The court also held that Public Act 89-7 is unconstitutional as a whole.

Defendants timely appealed the circuit court's order to this court, and we consolidated We also granted the following organizations leave to submit briefs amicus curiae: (1) Illinois Hospital & Healthsystems Association and the Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council, (2) Illinois State Medical Society, (3) Product Liability Advisory Council, Inc., (4) Illinois Manufacturers' Association, (5) Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel, (6) Illinois Civil Justice League, (7) Illinois State Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organization and Ironworker's District Council of Greater Chicago, (8) Illinois State Council of Senior Citizens, Families Advocating Injury Reduction (FAIR), Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE), Coalition for Consumer Rights, Citizen Action/Illinois Chapter, Metro Seniors in Action, Tenth Congressional District AFL-CIO, Champaign County Health Care Consumers, Citizen Advocacy Center and Coalition of Citizens With Disabilities in Illinois, (9) Illinois State Bar Association, (10) National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Cook County Bar Association, (11) Illinois NOW Legal and Education Fund and Breast Implant Information Exchange, (12) Chicago Bar Association, and (13) the Brotherhood of Heat and Frost Insulators, Local 17, and the Southeast Environmental Task Force.

the cases. We allowed [179 Ill.2d 376] the Attorney General, James E. Ryan, to intervene to defend the constitutionality of Public Act 89-7.

The parties agree that Public Act 89-7 effects substantial changes to numerous aspects of tort law. The parties further agree that the challenged provisions of Public Act 89-7 pertain primarily to personal injury actions as distinct from business-related torts, defamation, or other actions not involving physical injury. There is also no dispute that the heart of Public Act 89-7 is the $500,000 limit on compensatory damages for injuries that are considered "non-economic" in nature (735 ILCS 5/2-1115.1 (West 1996)).

Defendants characterize the Act as a legitimate reform measure that is within the scope of the Illinois General Assembly's power to change the common law, shape public policy, and regulate the state's economic health. Plaintiffs counter that the Act uses the guise of reform to erect arbitrary and irrational barriers to meritorious claims, and, therefore, that the Act violates the Illinois Constitution of 1970. Specifically, plaintiffs maintain that the following constitutional provisions are violated by various aspects of the legislation at issue: special legislation (Ill. Const.1970, art. IV, § 13), equal protection and due process (Ill. Const.1970, art. I, § 2), separation of powers (Ill. Const.1970, art. II, § 1), right to a jury (Ill. Const.1970, art. I, § 13) and right to a certain remedy (Ill. Const.1970, art. I, § 12).

The role of this court in considering the constitutionality of Public Act 89-7 is not to judge the prudence of the General Assembly's decision that reform of the civil justice system is needed. We recognize that we should not and need not balance the advantages and disadvantages of reform. See People v. Warren, 173 Ill.2d 348, 219 Ill.Dec. 533, 671 N.E.2d 700 (1996); see also Cutinello v. Whitley, 161 Ill.2d 409, 204 Ill.Dec. 136, 641 N.E.2d 360 (1994). Rather, as the highest court in this state, we must determine the meaning and effect of the Illinois Constitution in light of the challenges made to the legislation in issue. Warren, 173 Ill.2d at 355-56, 219 Ill.Dec. 533, 671 N.E.2d 700.

Courts should begin any constitutional analysis with the presumption that the challenged legislation is constitutional (People v. Shephard, 152 Ill.2d 489, 178 Ill.Dec. 724, 605 N.E.2d 518 (1992)), and it is the plaintiff's burden to clearly establish that the challenged provisions are unconstitutional (Bernier v. Burris, 113 Ill.2d 219, 100 Ill.Dec. 585, 497 N.E.2d 763 (1986)). However, the Illinois Constitution is not a grant, but a limitation on legislative power. People v. Chicago Transit Authority, 392 Ill. 77, 64 N.E.2d 4 (1945); Italia America Shipping Corp. v. Nelson, 323 Ill. 427, 154 N.E. 198 (1926); Taylorville Sanitary District v. Winslow, 317 Ill. 25, 147 N.E. 401 (1925). It is this court's duty to interpret the law and to protect the rights of individuals against acts For the reasons stated below, we determine that the following provisions of Public Act 89-7 violate the Illinois Constitution: (1) the limitation on compensatory damages for noneconomic injury (735 ILCS 5/2-1115.1 (West 1996)), (2) section 3.5(a) of the Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Act (740 ILCS 100/3.5(a) (West 1996)), (3) the abolition of joint and several liability (735 ILCS 5/2-1117 (West 1996)), and (4) the discovery statutes which mandate the unlimited disclosure of plaintiffs' medical information and records (735 ILCS 5/2-1003, 8-802, 8-2001, 8-2003 (West 1996)). We further hold that because these unconstitutional provisions may not be severed from the remainder of the act, Public Act 89-7 as a whole is invalid.

beyond the scope of the legislative power. People ex rel. Huempfner v. Benson, 294 Ill. 236, 128 N.E. 387 (1920). If a statute is unconstitutional, this court is obligated to declare it invalid. Wilson v. Department of Revenue, 169 Ill.2d 306, 214 Ill.Dec. 849, 662 N.E.2d 415 (1996). This duty cannot be evaded or neglected, no matter how desirable or beneficial the legislation may appear to be. Wilson, 169 Ill.2d at 310, 214 Ill.Dec. 849, 662 N.E.2d 415; Grasse v. Dealer's Transport Co., 412 Ill. 179, 190, 106 N.E.2d 124 (1952).

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Vernon Best, was injured on July 24, 1995, while he was operating a forklift for his employer, Laclede Steel Company, in Alton, Illinois. The forklift was designed and manufactured by Taylor Machine Works (Taylor) and sold by Allied Industrial Equipment Corporation (Allied). Best sustained injuries when the forklift's mast and support assembly collapsed while Best was moving slabs of hot steel. As a result of the collapse, flammable hydraulic fluid manufactured by Lee Helms, Inc. (Helms), ignited and engulfed Best in a fireball. While on fire, Best leaped from the cab of the forklift and fractured both heels. Best also suffered second and third degree burns over 40% of his body, including his face,...

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