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January 2013

 

A Toxic and Mass Tort Update:

Illinois Supreme Court Limits "Forum Shopping"

 

In its December 28, 2012 decision, the Illinois Supreme Court issued a forum non conveniens decision reversing the St. Clair County Court and directing the trial court to dismiss plaintiff's asbestos case. Fennell v. Illinois Central Railroad, (12/28/2012).

The plaintiff sued his former employer under FELA claiming exposure to asbestos during his employment at the railroad caused him to develop respiratory problems. Plaintiff was a lifelong Mississippi resident and worked for the railroad primarily in Mississippi, yet chose to file his lawsuit in St. Clair County, Illinois.

In reversing the decision of St. Clair County trial judge, Justice Freeman, writing for the majority, found that the circuit court failed to recognize several of the private and public interest factors in its analysis and stated, "we remind our trial courts to include all of the relevant private and public interest factors in their analyses."

The private interest factors to be considered are: convenience of the parties; ease of access to the evidence; availability to secure attendance of witnesses, the possibility of viewing the premises, and "all other practical considerations that make a trial easy, expeditious, and inexpensive."

The public interest factors to be considered are: administrative difficulties when the case is handled in congested venues, unfairness in imposing jury duty on residents of a community with no connection to the litigation and the interest in having local controversies handled locally.

The Court reiterated its desire to curtail "forum shopping," while still recognizing the plaintiff's right to choose the forum is substantial. This decision could have far-reaching effects on the voluminous toxic tort dockets throughout the state of Illinois, where Plaintiffs' firms are notoriously fond of "forum shopping."

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