An essential element of a plaintiff's cause of action for any tort is that there be a proximate causal relationship between the act or omission of the defendant and the damages which the plaintiff has suffered. In Smith, the Illinois Supreme Court held that a fundamental principle of tort law is that the plaintiff has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant caused the complained-of harm or injury; mere conjecture or speculation is insufficient proof. The Smith court rejected the notion that liability may be imposed based merely on a breach of duty, without causation being established. This causation-in-fact requirement entails a reasonable connection between the act or omission of the defendant and the damages which the plaintiff has suffered and is applicable to claims premised upon allegations of negligence, strict product liability, and willful and wanton misconduct.
Parents, on behalf of themselves and other similarly situated parents, filed a complaint against a corporation and manufacturers of lead pigment used in paint alleging negligence and strict liability (counts 1 and 2), fraud (count 3), unjust enrichment (count 4), public nuisance (count 5) and civil conspiracy (count 6). The case was filed because their children underwent or would undergo medical screening, assessment, or monitoring for lead poisoning or latent diseases associated with lead poisoning. The trial court dismissed the case for failure to state causes of action. The parents appealed the case.
Did any of the dismissed counts state causes of action upon which relief could be granted?
The Court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of counts 1 through 5 of the parents' complaint but reversed the dismissal of count 6 and remanded the cause to the trial court for further proceedings. It found that counts 1, 2 and 5 failed to state causes of action because the parents had not identified the manufacturer or supplier of the lead pigment used in the paint to which their children were exposed. Thus, the causation element was not satisfied. Count 3 failed to state a cause of action, as it was lacking allegations supporting the elements of duty, reliance, and causation. Absent any allegation that defendants had an independent duty to provide medical monitoring for the children, count 4 failed to state a cause of action for unjust enrichment. However, the trial court erred in dismissing count 6 because, by identifying defendants as the sole producers and promoters of lead pigment used in paint and alleging that each was a party to the conspiratorial agreement, the parents alleged both an agreement and tortious conduct in furtherance of the agreement.