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 plaintiffs.
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 Illinois.
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 concluded.
The appellate court initially refused to hear this case, but the state supreme court ordered the court to address the matter, according to legal documents.
Megabus 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.