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Court stifles cry for expansion of affirmative duties

by Scott Britton | February 19, 2008 

The Supreme Court recently considered the extension of affirmative duties to act and the alleged erosion of the “special relationship” doctrine in Iseberg v. Gross. In this case, a joint business venture left one partner financially distraught and mentally unbalanced, blaming an ex-partner, the plaintiff in the case, for his plight. The two other partners were aware that the troubled partner made numerous threats on the plaintiff’s life. He later appeared at the home of the plaintiff and fired four shots, leaving the plaintiff paralyzed. Subsequently, the plaintiff claimed that the two other partners had an affirmative duty to warn him about the troubled partner’s threats. The plaintiff gave two theories for recovery: (1) a principal-agent special relationship theory, or (2) the theory that the special relationship doctrine should be abandoned entirely because it has fallen out of favor in Illinois.

The Court upheld the decision of the Appellate Court, confirming that not only was there no special relationship warranting a duty, but the special relationship doctrine still stands strong in Illinois and, for that matter, every US jurisdiction. In the decision, the Court noted that the principal-agent “special relationship” duty to warn, outlined in section 471 of the Restatement Second of Torts, is reserved for cases where there is a risk arising from the nature of a particular employment for which the principal has superior knowledge, and affirmative duties to act can only arise from a recognized “special relationship” or a statutory obligation, found in several states.