A Chicago appeals panel has affirmed a lower court ruling
that blocked a request by nationwide transportation company Megabus, and other
defendants in a traffic crash injury suit, to shift the case from Cook County
to rural Indiana, where the crash occurred, because of convenience.
The Jan. 13 decision was authored by Justice Mathias Delort
in Illinois First District Appellate Court, with concurrence from Justices
Thomas Hoffman and Joy Cunningham. The court filed the order under Illinois
Supreme Court Rule 23, which means it may not be cited as precedent, except in
the limited circumstances permitted by Rule 23.
The judgment favored 12 plaintiffs who sued Megabus USA and
Coach Leasing, which are based in Cook County and a bus driver, who is from
DuPage County, as well as New Jersey-based Coach USA and Megabus Southeast,
which is headquartered in Delaware and Georgia.
The case stems from a traffic crash that occurred in October
2014 on Interstate 65 near Greenwood, Ind., which is in the south central part
of the state. The driver of a car hit a cable barrier, with the car becoming
disabled in the road. A double-decker Megabus, traveling from Atlanta to
Chicago, hit the car. The bus driver then overcorrected, which caused the bus
to flip onto its side, according to court papers. The injured passengers were
treated at local hospitals.
Separate suits were filed by 12 passengers, nine of whom
were from Illinois, with one each from Kentucky, Georgia and Indiana. The suits
were eventually consolidated into one suit in Cook County Circuit Court that
alleged the bus driver was negligent in his handling of the bus.
Defendants argued the suit should proceed in Johnson County,
Ind. – where the crash occurred – because of convenience and legal propriety.
Circuit Judge Larry Axelrood disagreed, refusing to allow such a move.
Axelrood’s decision was backed up on appeal.
Defendants were fighting an uphill battle from the start,
because Appellate Justice Delort pointed out the plaintiff’s choice of forum is
always “entitled to deference.”
Nonetheless, defendants contended they would be unable to
compel the car driver, an Indiana resident, to testify in Illinois and they
wouldn’t be able to make the driver kick in to any damages to be paid
Delort swept this aside by saying there was no indication
the driver would not come to Illinois, but furthermore, even if he refused, an
evidence deposition could be taken from him in Indiana. As far as the driver’s
contribution to damages, that was “immaterial” and “speculative.”
Delort also pointed out the corporate witnesses, who are
from outside Illinois, can be compelled to show up in Cook County court.
Delort noted regardless where proceedings take place, any
would-be Indiana jurors would not be able to visit the nearby crash scene,
because the scene has not been preserved. In addition, evidence of lost wages
and medical costs allegedly incurred by plaintiffs, has been generated in
Defendants contended litigation would be more efficient in
Johnson County, because Cook County courts are much more congested. However,
Delort said statistics indicate only about 10 percent more cases are filed per
judge in Cook County than in Johnson County – not enough difference to move the
suit across the state line, in Delort’s view.
Further tipping the scales in favor of the Land of Lincoln
over the Hoosier State, was that all attorneys in the suit are from Illinois,
not to mention most of the other participants.
“Illinois has an interest in resolving matters between its
residents. The accident location carries less weight than the plaintiffs’
choice of forum that is the defendants’ county of residence. The vast majority
of petitioners and respondents are Illinois residents. No reasonable person
would have found that the factors strongly favored Indiana as a forum,” Delort
The appellate court initially refused to hear this case, but
the state supreme court ordered the court to address the matter, according to
and the other defendants have been represented by the New York City-based,
nationwide firm of Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker, which
maintains a Chicago office.
All but one of the plaintiffs in the consolidated action are represented by the Zimmerman Law Offices, of Chicago.