Illinois’ highest court recently put all Illinois employers on high alert. In McQueen v Green, the plaintiff proceeded against the defendant and defendant’s employer for the same underlying occurrence. The jury found the employee defendant not liable, but found the employer defendant engaged in willful and wanton conduct and awarded punitive damages. The Illinois Supreme Court upheld the jury’s award of punitive damages against the employer despite finding the employee defendant not guilty.
The ruling dismantled five decades of Illinois case law previously disallowing plaintiffs from recovering separately against an employer once it admits an agency relationship existed via respondeat superior with its employee. Before McQueen, the employer simply needed to admit that it would be responsible for any finding of liability against its employee – extinguishing any separate cause of action against the employer unless extraordinary circumstances were present.
The facts of the McQueen decision do not fit well in the body of law it overturned. To be sure, we have already litigated issues related to McQueen’s holding from plaintiff attorneys who misinterpret the ruling and its scope.