Intentional Infliction – Causation

 

The Illinois Supreme Court took the Turcois v Debruler case. We reported about the appellate decision here. This case involved a fascinating set of facts. The   plaintiff rented an apartment by the defendant. The defendant, within 30 days of the plaintiff rented the property, began knocking the building down around the plaintiff and his family. The family and the defendant were obviously upset by the defendant’s conduct. The plaintiffs’ decedent then committed suicide. The details are reported in the case; I will not re-state them all here.

The appellate court had held that the plaintiff could pursue the cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress and could seek damages for the suicide. The appellate court cited the Restatement of Torts, which is frequently considered very authoritative, in its decision.

The Supreme Court disagreed with the appellate court and dismissed the counts concerning suicide.  The Supreme Court reasoned that a plaintiff must get past two hurdles, cause in fact, and cause in law.  Proximate cause, also known as cause in law, is limited by foreseeability, according to the Supreme Court.

 

The Supreme Court relied on a case called Martin vs Heinold Commodities, Inc., 163 Ill.2d. 33 (1994).  Heinold was a fraud case. In Heinold the plaintiffs were victims of a misrepresented service fee. They had purchased securities. They sought their investment loss, claiming if the defendant had not misrepresented the service fee that they never would have invested in it in the first place; the investors lost money when the stock price went down. The Supreme Court in Heinold said that the investment loss, as opposed to the service fee, was not something that plaintiff could recover. Plaintiff can only recover the loss of the service fee.

Next the Supreme Court reasoned that since the plaintiff in a securities fraud case cannot recover for the investment loss that plaintiff cannot recover for suicide. While both cases involved causation it seems a little stretched to apply a securities fraud case to determine that suicide is legally not related to intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Supreme Court’s decision has been criticized by other legal commentators. See here.

The court did indicate that there may be other situations where a suicide would not break the chain of causation and cause a bar for a wrongful death claim. Specifically, if the suicide is foreseeable.  However, the court did not feel this is applicable here.

The Supreme Court does not explain why it never mentioned the restatement of torts in its decision. The appellate court relied heavily on the Restatement of Torts. The Restatement seems well reasoned and logical.  The authors of the Restatement of Torts are certainly authorities on tort law. Why the court did not at least discuss it, like the appellate court did, is not answered by the court. However, the Supreme Court got the last word in Illinois.  It presumably considered the opinion of the authors of the Restatement and rejected their opinion.  The Supreme Court determines Illinois law, not the Restatement. It should be noted there were no dissenting opinions on the court.

If you have a tort claim contact Ackerman Law Office.