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Illinois court rules injured worker cannot sue third party

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The Illinois Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a custodian who was injured when a desk fell on her can no longer sue the third-party responsible for her injury because she is outside of the two-year statute of limitations and that her employer has already filed a suit to recoup workers compensation claim costs.

In 2012, Teresa Mroczko was employed by Westchester, Illinois-based A&R Janitorial as a custodian at a high-rise office building in Chicago at the same time Chicago-based Pepper Construction Co., then maintaining the building, hired a subcontractor, Perez & Associates Inc., to replace the carpets on certain floors of the building, according to documents in A&R Janitorial v. Pepper Construction Co.; Teresa Mroczko, filed in a courthouse in Springfield, Illinois.

While Ms. Mroczko was performing her cleaning duties, a desk that had been placed in an upright position fell and injured her. Following the accident, she filed a workers compensation claim against A&R and was awarded relief but failed to file a timely personal injury action in the circuit court against the construction company, records state.

A&R Janitorial exercised its right under the Workers' Compensation Act to file a complaint in subrogation in the circuit court of Cook County, according to the ruling. Ms. Mroczko later filed her own personal injury action against the same defendants, but the circuit court “dismissed the action as untimely,” records state.

Ms. Mroczko later filed a petition to intervene in A&R's subrogation action. The Cook County circuit court denied that petition on res judicata, or that the defendants were already being sued and thus the law bars any further actions by the parties or their privies on the same claim, per court records.

The appellate court reversed and remanded, holding res judicata did not apply; the state Supreme Court then reversed the judgment of the appellate court and affirmed the judgment of the circuit court, finding that “because Mroczko's petition for intervention was her second attempt to sue Pepper for the same claim following an adjudication on the merits, the circuit court denied her petition on res judicata grounds.”

“Thus, Mroczko's inability to intervene in the subrogation action did not result from the inequitable application of res judicata against her. If Mroczko has suffered damages as a result of being barred from suing Pepper directly for her injuries, her remedy may lie in a legal malpractice action against the attorney who filed an untimely personal injury action on her behalf,” the ruling states.