Injured Plaintiffs just got a big win from the Illinois Supreme Court on where their cases will be tried.
Under an old doctrine called Forum Non Conveniens, a judge can transfer a case from Illinois to Iowa. That can happen if, for example, the accident happened in Iowa, the Plaintiff lives in Iowa, and all the witnesses live in Iowa.
Forum Non Conveniens (which is a fancy way of saying there is a more convenient place or "forum" for trying a case) was traditionally used for sending a case from one state to another. But in 1983, the Illinois Supreme Court expanded the doctrine of Forum Non Conveniens. In the 1983 case, the Supreme Court said the doctrine of Forum Non Conveniens can be used within Illinois, to transfer a case from one part of the State to another.
Typically, the Injured Plaintiff – exercising the right to file a lawsuit in a County where one of the Defendants conducts business or resides – files a complaint in Cook, St. Clair or Madison Counties. Then – if the accident happened in a smaller, rural County with Stingier Jurors – the Defendants ask the Judge to apply the doctrine of Forum Non Conveniens to transfer the case to the smaller County.
Since that 1983 case, Illinois Judges have transferred numerous cases from Cook, St. Clair and Madison Counties to small, rural Counties. Even if the Trial Judge or Appellate Court refused to transfer cases, the Supreme Court often ordered Judges to transfer cases to smaller Counties. In a recent law review article, an Illinois Appellate Court Judge wrote that members of the Supreme Court became "zealots" in applying the doctrine of Forum Non Conveniens to thwart the choice of Injured Plaintiffs on where their lawsuits will be tried.
Under the new Illinois Supreme Court case, though, the Plaintiff’s choice of Counties stands if: (1) several Counties have connections to an accident, and (2) no one County has overwhelmingly strong ties to the accident.
- On a road in DeKalb County, a boat trailer detached from a Jeep, crossed into oncoming traffic, and killed Angel Malone.
- The investigating officers were all from DeKalb County. An eye-witness lived in DeKalb County. The boat and trailer were allegedly stored in DeKalb County. Angel's parents lived in DeKalb County. And the doctor who performed the autopsy lived in nearby Winnebago County.
- The Malone family lived in Kane County.
- The owner of the boat-trailer (Richard Guerine) lived in Cook County.
- The company that manufactured the boat-trailer was located in Indiana.
- Patrick Malone (Angel’s husband) filed a lawsuit against Guerine and the trailer manufacturer in Cook County.
Invoking the doctrine of Forum Non Conveniens, the trailer company moved to transfer the case to DeKalb County.
The Cook County Trial Judge decided he was obligated to transfer the case to DeKalb County. But the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that when several different Counties have ties to an accident, and no one County has a "predominant" connection with the accident, the Plaintiff's choice of Counties wins.
To make sure the Supreme Court's new ruling is clear, Justice Fitzgerald explained that:
Now Patrick Malone gets to have his case tried in Cook County. This new case is a major victory for Injured Plaintiffs.
In an article published on October 29, 2001 in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin entitled "High Court Urged To Fix Choice of Forum", Steven P. Garmisa reviewed an article written by Illinois Fifth District Appellate Judge Gordon E. Maag for the Southern Illinois University Law Journal, on the subject of forum non conveniens.