Illinois Appeals Court Says 'No' to Court Shopping

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Illinois Appellate Court rules that Plaintiffs who file lawsuits in counties having little to do with their case, because of the county's reputation for high verdicts, run the risk of having the case overturned and transferred, even after a verdict. Lawyers who file cases in "judicial hell hole" counties with little connection to their cases, will not be rewarded.

The 1st District Appellate Court of Illinois ruled Monday that an Indiana woman's lawsuit filed in Cook County against a railroad client of Daley & Mohan of Chicago, should have been dismissed under the judicial doctrine called “forum non conveniens” which holds that lawsuits should be heard in the county which has the most contacts with the incident involved.

The ruling, which came in the Tracie Eads' versus Consolidated Rail Corp. case, Illininois Appellate Court, First District, 2006 Ill. App. LEXIS 192, 2006, deals a severe blow to the common practice of some plaintiffs’ attorneys to “forum shop” or file lawsuits in jurisdictions, like Madison County or Cook County which are known for large verdicts, even where the case has no connection with that county. Certain counties, where courts have summarily denied motions to transfer, regardless of the case’s connection with the county, have come to be called “judicial hellholes” by industry and the media.

The Eads case involved a Sept. 20, 1997, van versus train accident that left Plaintiff with permanent head injuries. After a 2004 trial, in which Plaintiff’s counsel asked a Cook County jury for over $7 million, the jury found Eads incurred $250,000 in damages, but reduced her damages to $2,500 in accordance with Indiana law, after finding 99 percent of the negligence attributable to the driver of the van in which Eads was a passenger. A Cook County Judge then struck the verdict and granted Eads a new trial.

Conrail filed a motion to dismiss after the grant of the new trial on the grounds of forum non conveniens, its fourth such motion and the Cook County Judge denied that motion. The Illinois Appeals Court reversed saying Indiana was the proper place to resolve the lawsuit.

The Appeals Court stated: “when a plaintiff pursues a foreign forum despite a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff is taking on a calculated risk of reversal on appeal -- forum non conveniens motions have been granted by reviewing courts even after claims have been tried to verdict."

Ray Groble and Chris Karsten of Daley & Mohan, who tried and appealed the case for the railroad, are hopeful that the decision will dissuade Plaintiffs’ lawyers from filing lawsuits in jurisdictions where they do not belong.

The law firm of Daley & Mohan, P.C. represents more members of the railroad industry than any other firm in Chicago. It also represents Fortune 500 and other companies in the transportation, energy, real estate and manufacturing industries. For additional information or for personal interviews with the attorneys handling the Eads case, please contact Dan Mohan, Daley & Mohan, P.C., Chicago, at (312) 422-0786.

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Daniel J. Mohan