Can You Sue Those Who Were Unknown to You at the Time You Signed a Realease Form ?
In Thornwood, Inc. v. Jenner & Block, 344 Ill. App. 3d 15, 23, 799 N.E.2d 756, 763, 278 Ill. Dec. 891 (2003), the defendant law firm's general release contained sweeping language, purporting to release all claims of any sort. Thornwood, Inc., 344 Ill. App. 3d at 22, 799 N.E.2d at 763.
The Court held the release did not encompass the claims made by the plaintiff because those claims were unknown to him when he signed the release, and thus the claims could not have been in the contemplation of the parties when the release was signed. Thornwood, Inc., 344 Ill. App. 3d at 22, 799 N.E.2d at 763.
Further, this court took note that the claims may have been contemplated by the law firm, which crafted the release in an effort to protect itself from all potential claims. Thornwood, Inc., 344 Ill. App. 3d at 22, 799 N.E.2d at 763.
However, knowledge by one party, where the other party lacks knowledge, does not bring the claim within the contemplation of the parties. Thornwood, Inc., 344 Ill. App. 3d at 22, 799 N.E.2d at 763, quoting Todd v. Mitchell, 168 Ill. 199, 204, 48 N.E. 35 (1897) (" 'The breach of the covenant of warranty could not have been in contemplation of the parties, because unknown to the appellant at the time'").
The Court explained as follows:
"In many cases, a release makes clear on its face what claims were within the contemplation of the parties at the time the release was given.
In other instances, the release provides very general language that does not indicate with any clear definition what claims were within the contemplation of the parties.
In such cases, 'the courts will restrict the release to the thing or things intended to be released and will refuse to interpret generalities so as to defeat a valid claim not then in the minds of the parties.'
In other words, general releases do not serve to release unknown claims, which the party could not have contemplated releasing when it gave the release." Thornwood, Inc., 344 Ill. App. 3d at 21, 799 N.E.2d at 762
Concerning the release of fiduciary duties, we further explained:
"If the acts had been disclosed or were otherwise within Thornton's knowledge and Thornton had then agreed to the release, it would be binding.
If, however, those acts were concealed from Thornton in violation of [defendant's] fiduciary duties, the release may not prevent Thornton's claims." Thornwood, Inc., 344 Ill. App. 3d at 27, 799 N.E.2d at 767.