Hepler Broom, LLC

Gant is No Longer: Illinois Supreme Court Holds Direct Negligence Claims Against Trucking Company Appropriate Even Where Company Admits Vicarious Liability

April 22, 2022

by Michael Reda

An opinion filed by the Illinois Supreme Court on April 21, 2022, will have a tremendous impact on the trucking industry. In McQueen v. Green, 2022 IL 126666, the Illinois Supreme Court held that plaintiffs may pursue separate claims for negligent hiring, negligent supervision, and negligent retention against a trucking company/employer for the employer’s conduct in failing to reasonably hire, supervise, or retain an employee, even where the trucking company/employer admits vicarious liability for its truck driver/employee.

In departing from long-standing precedent and distinguishing what has been recognized by many other states and commonly referred to as the McHaffie rule (a Missouri Supreme Court decision that held where an employer admits respondeat superior liability, separate actions against the employer are extinguished), the Illinois Supreme Court concluded there was “no reason why a plaintiff should be precluded from seeking to hold an employer vicariously liable for its employee’s negligence, as well as directly liable for its own negligence, separate and apart from its employee’s conduct.”  Id.  ¶ 45.  The Court reasoned that “[a] potentially meritorious cause of action should not be barred simply because the employer acknowledges vicarious liability for its employee’s misconduct in a separate cause of action.”  Id.

The Illinois Supreme Court found that the justifications for the McHaffie rule were policy driven and were not well-founded. While several other states continue to follow McHaffie, this was an issue of first impression for the Illinois Supreme Court. Prior to this month’s decision in McQueen, trucking companies had long-relied upon an Illinois appellate court decision, Gant vs. LU Transport Inc., 331 Ill. App. 3d 924 (Dist. 2002), which upheld dismissal of direct negligence claims against the employer where the employer admits vicarious liability for its employee’s actions.

The McQueen Court further concluded that the jury’s finding that the employee was not negligent while holding the employer negligent did not result in inconsistent verdicts.  The Supreme Court upheld the award of $163,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.

 The full opinion can be found here.

To stay up to date on how these and other trucking issues affect your business, please contact our Trucking Law team.

COVID-19 Updates