A state appellate panel has decided a wrongful death lawsuit brought against a Rockford-based waste collection company over the death of a man whose car collided with a garbage truck near Belvidere should stay in Boone County, despite the desire of the man’s family to try the case in Cook County.
Two months after Kenneth L. Kazort died in an Oct. 24, 2013, crash with an Advanced Disposal garbage truck driven by John Padgett, the administrator of Kazort’s estate, Melinda Ruch, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Cook County against Padgett and his employer. The defendants, however, filed a motion in May 2014 to transfer the case to Boone County, as the accident occurred on Russelville Road in Belvidere.
Cook County Circuit Court Judge Eileen Mary Brewer granted the relocation motion, but allowed Ruch to choose whether to move the case to Boone County, where Kazort lived in rural Capron, or Winnebago County, where Padgett and a number of the people who could be called to testify live. Ruch filed an interlocutory appeal, but the appeals court upheld Brewer’s decision to move the case to Boone.
In arguing to move the trial from Cook County, the defendants explained how, aside from lawyers, everyone involved in the case or expected to testify in the case lives in either Boone or Winnebago county. Ruch, the mother of Kazort’s son, who was his only beneficiary, hired Lexington, Mo.-based law firm Langdon & Emison, led by attorney J. Kent Emison. Emison’s firm has a Chicago office, as well as offices in St. Louis and Kansas City. Ruch also retained a firm in Sycamore, in DeKalb County.
Advanced Disposal, which operates in the Rockford and Belvidere area from a facility in Davis Junction, has its corporate headquarters in Ponte Vedra, Fla. Advanced Disposal was represented in the Cook County case by the firm of Hinshaw Culbertson in Chicago.
Ruch’s attorneys had argued against the transfer, in part, by pointing to court data showing “the time lapse between filing and verdict is more significant than the number of cases filed, and that, in 2012, the time lapse for law jury verdicts over $50,000 averaged 36.1 months in Cook County and 56 months in Boone County.”
Ruch’s attorneys further noted her damages expert is from Cook County and her accident reconstruction expert is from North Dakota, while Kazort’s vehicle was stored in McHenry County and the garbage truck involved in the crash is housed in Ogle County.
This, however, was not enough to persuade the judges the case should remain in Cook County.
“The Cook County court can assert jurisdiction,” Brewer said from the bench in her Sept. 2, 2014, decision. “However, this case is primarily a wrongful death case for a car accident that happened in Boone County. The alleged negligence and injury occurred in Boone. There is no reasonable connection between the accident and Cook County.”
Illinois First District Appellate Court Justice Robert E. Gordon wrote the majority opinion, with justices Margaret McBridge and Stuart E. Palmer concurring.
Gordon backed Brewer’s findings, writing “neither the private nor public factors favor Cook County.” Further, the location of the witnesses and accident site, as well as “the policy to decide such controversies locally all favor Boone County.”
With respect to Ruch’s concern about the time between filing and verdict, Gordon noted that because Boone County has so few similar proceedings, “just a couple of complex cases can skew its average atypically upward in any given year.” In 2013, for example, Boone County had just one law jury verdict case of more than $50,000. Whereas the 2012 average could favor Cook County, he noted, that is only one public factor and does not prove the circuit judge abused her discretion.
The justices also noted Cook County stands as the most congested court system in the state of Illinois. In 2012, for instance, the justices noted, court documents indicated more than 21,000 cases in which plaintiffs sought more than $50,000 in damages were filed in Cook County, compared to just 44 such cases in Boone County.
Further, the justices noted, by 2013, court reports indicated the time lapse from filing of a case to judgment was still 36 months for Cook County, “but had dropped to only 22 months for Boone County.”