As any top personal injury lawyer knows, filing a personal injury or wrongful death lawsuit in a more plaintiff-friendly venue, such as Cook County, Illinois, as opposed to a more conservative venue, can affect the value of the case significantly. Therefore, lawyers must carefully consider the venue (or location where a case is filed) before filing suit.
All states have laws governing where a case may properly be filed. In Illinois, for instance, a case may only be filed (1) in the county of residence of any defendant (for corporate defendants, any county in which the company “does business”), or (2) in the county in which the transaction or cause of action arose. 735 ILCS 5/2-101.
However, even where plaintiffs file a personal injury lawsuit in a proper venue, the defendants my attempt to move the case to a “more convenient” (aka more defense-oriented) venue, under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. The trial court has broad discretion to allow or deny motions to transfer under forum non conveniens, as evidenced in a recent plaintiff-friendly verdict, Glass v. DOT Transportation, Inc., 1-08-2279 (Ill. App. 1st Dist. July 17, 2009).
Glass involved a wrongful death personal injury action brought by the administrator of the estate of a man who was killed when he was killed in a tractor-trailer accident on interstate 136 near Havana in Mason County, Illinois. The defendant truck driver, employed by DOT Transportation, Inc., crossed the center line and collided with the decadent’s vehicle, resulting in his death. At the time of his death, the decedent was a resident of Champaign County. There were three eyewitnesses, none of which from either Mason or Cook County.
A probate proceeding was opened in Champaign County and plaintiff, a resident of Cook County, was appointed special representative and special administrator of her father’s estate. She filed the wrongful death, personal injury and survival action in Cook County, Illinois. The defendant truck driver is a resident of Adams County, and DOT Transportation Inc., although doing business in Cook County, maintained their principal place of business in Brown County. The plaintiffs named three potential witnesses who resided in Cook County to support the elements of damage.
The defendants moved to transfer the action to Mason County — historically, a more conservative, defense-oriented venue — under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. The defendants argued that Mason County was a more convenient venue than Cook County because (1) the tractor-trailer truck accident occurred in Mason County; (2) Mason County was more convenient for the witnesses; (3) Mason County had a stronger interest in the litigation; and (4) the Mason County docket was less congested than in Cook County.
The plaintiff argued the opposite, namely that (1) she resided in Cook County; (2) defendant DOT did business in Cook County; (3) three damages witnesses resided in Cook County; (4) witnesses and evidence was scattered throughout many counties; and (5) Cook County had an interest in this litigation because plaintiff was a resident.
The trial court agreed with the plaintiff, and denied the defendants’ motion to transfer the case out of Cook County. The appellate court agreed, and affirmed the trial court.
The appellate court noted that a plaintiff has a “substantial interest in choosing the forum where his rights will be vindicated,” and therefore is afforded deference in his choice of venue. The court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the defendants’ motion to transfer out of Cook County.
This case stresses the importance of choosing the right venue in personal injury cases, and using creativity as a lawyer to support the plaintiff’s choice of forum.