(CN) - A doctor whose in-laws blamed her after her husband died in a sleepwalking fall has a case for malicious prosecution against them, an Illinois appeals court ruled.
After David Sorin fell to his death on Aug. 11, 2008, his family and his widow, Dava Grundhoefer, wound up fighting over a 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe.
John and Bette Sorin, the deceased's parents, sued Grundhoefer for wrongful death 2010, claiming that she prescribed Ambien to her husband, despite allegedly knowing that he had a propensity for sleepwalking.
Because sleepwalking is a known side effect of Ambien, the Sorins claimed that Grundhoefer's actions were "negligent" or "careless."
Grundhoefer claimed that she learned of the lawsuit only after the Chicago Sun-Times wrote about it, and someone from the television show "Dr. Phil" contacted her to appear on an episode about Ambien.
The Sorins dropped their wrongful death lawsuit after winning the probate dispute in 2010.
Grundhoefer sued the Sorins and their attorney, James Roche, in 2011 for defamation and malicious prosecution. She claimed that the Sorins knew that their wrongful-death suit lacked probable cause.
The Cook County Circuit Court dismissed the action, but the 1st Appellate Court revived Grundhoefer's malicious-prosecution claim 2-1 on Oct. 27.
Justice Sheldon Harris noted Grundhoefer's allegation that the Sorins sued her "in order to gain leverage against her" in the probate dispute.
"Grundhoefer's pleadings stated facts supporting her allegation that the Sorins lacked probable cause when they filed the wrongful death suit," Harris wrote for the majority.
Finding dismissal of the defamation claim proper, the court found no proof that the Sorins or Roche spoke about the wrongful-death suit to the Sun-Times.
"A reporter for the Sun-Times could have found the case simply by searching court records," Harris wrote.
"Furthermore, although Grundhoefer argues that the article referred to her as an anesthesiologist where the wrongful death claim merely referred to her as a licensed medical professional, that information was available simply by conducting a search of Grundhoefer on the Internet," he added.
Justice Maureen Connors wrote in dissent that Grundhoefer's entire case should be dismissed. She noted that the Sorins' lawsuit alleged that their son had previously sleepwalked after taking Ambien.
"These allegations highlight the Sorins' beliefs at the time they initiated their wrongful death suit," Connors wrote. "I find that they had an honest and sound suspicion that a claim against Grundhoefer was meritorious."
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