Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Be careful whose car you drive

Police officers often perform registration checks on random vehicles via mobile data terminals installed in their police cruisers. In addition to the status of the vehicle’s registration, searches of this nature generally disclose whether the registered owner of the vehicle has a valid driver’s license. What searches of this nature do not disclose, however, is whether the owner of the vehicle is actually the person driving the car at the time.

Upon learning that the owner of vehicle has a suspended license, most police officers will execute a traffic stop without any further inquiry as to whether the owner of the vehicle is actually the person driving. Remember that citizens in Illinois have the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and other possessions against unreasonable searches, seizures, and invasions of privacy. Oftentimes, the owner’s gender and physical description are made available to the officer as part of the notification that the owner’s license is suspended. If the officer’s records indicate that a male owns the car, but a female is pulled over and gets arrested, was that a good stop?

Absolutely, says the Illinois Appellate Court. See People v. Barnes, 152 Ill.App.3d 1004 (4th Dist. 1987). See also Village of Lake in the Hills v. Lloyd, 227 Ill.App.3d 351 (2nd Dist. 1992). The Courts have ruled that a police officer can make a reasonable inference that the owner is driving the vehicle, and has no duty to inquire otherwise. That inference amounts to probable cause sufficient to pull over the vehicle and question the driver.

Of course, if you don't mind dealing with police officers, and have nowhere important to be for the next twenty minutes after you get pulled over, this shouldn’t bother you. For everyone else, be careful of whose car you drive.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Personal liability for corporate debts?

The owners/officers of a small HVAC business contracted to install an air-conditioning system in a newly constructed residence. Sometime before completing the job, the corporation was involuntarily dissolved. The officers continued to work on the project despite the corporate dissolution. The plaintiffs bought the home and found the air-conditioning to be defective. The plaintiffs sued the corporation as well as the officers for the work that they completed after the corporation was dissolved.

In analyzing the personal liability of corporate officers, the court noted that personal liability may be imposed on officers of dissolved corporations for debt incurred by the business during a period of corporate dissolution. However, the court found that the Illinois Business Corporation Act permits officers to wind up corporate affairs without incurring personal liability. The court found that the officers' actions in simply finishing a job that was already started were consistent with an effort to wind up the corporation and that personal liability did not attach.

Forsythe-Fournier v. Isaacson, 368 Ill.App.3d 674 (1st Dist. 2006).

Click here for the full opinion.