Illinois Appellate Court Upholds Summary Judgment in Rear-End Collision Based on Dead-Man’s Act

empty witness standIn the recent case of Peacock v. Waldeck, the plaintiff filed a complaint seeking damages for injuries she suffered in a rear-end car collision. The defendant died from unrelated injuries after the date that the plaintiff initiated the lawsuit. The trial court appointed a special representative for the defendant’s estate. The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff could not prove negligence without using testimony that it deemed inadmissible pursuant to the Dead-Man’s Act.

The Dead-Man’s Act states that in any trial in which a party sues or defends a representative of the deceased individual’s estate, an adverse party cannot testify on his or her own behalf about any conversation with the deceased or about any events that took place in the presence of the deceased. The purpose of this rule is to recognize the fact that the deceased individual would not have an opportunity to refute the testimony or offer conflicting evidence. Ultimately, the law is meant to prevent the testifying party from engaging in any misrepresentations about what was said or done. There are, however, a number of exceptions to this rule, none of which applied to this case.

The plaintiff contended that the defendant’s negligent conduct at the time of the crash could be inferred because the defendant admitted that he was driving behind the plaintiff and that he had an unobstructed view of the vehicle in which the plaintiff was riding at the time of the crash. The plaintiff also argued that since the defendant lacked knowledge regarding whether the plaintiff’s vehicle was stopped at a stoplight, an inference could be drawn that the plaintiff was actually stopped.

On review by the appellate court, the court emphasized that since the defendant did not actually admit that the plaintiff was stopped at a stoplight at the time of the crash, no evidentiary significance could be drawn from the testimony. A lack of knowledge could not be used to infer an additional fact. Applying the Dead-Man’s Act, the court concluded that summary judgment in favor of the defendant was appropriate. The testimony that the defendant did provide left open too many questions regarding whether or not the accident may have happened because the plaintiff stopped abruptly or in some other unsafe fashion. The cause of the accident could also have been attributed to hazardous road conditions, mechanical issues with the plaintiff’s vehicle, or the plaintiff’s own negligence. Had the defendant admitted that the plaintiff was stopped at a stoplight when the accident occurred, the Dead-Man’s Act would not preclude the plaintiff from using this testimony and the assertion it contains.

At Therman Law Offices, we understand how stressful and inconvenient a car accident can be for you and your family, especially when serious and potentially permanent injuries are involved. Having represented victims throughout Chicago and Illinois, our car accident attorneys have the knowledge and experience it takes to ensure that you protect your right to the settlement or the judgment that you deserve. Our team of professionals handles all phases of the litigation, including gathering evidence, negotiating with insurance companies, and preparing for trial. To schedule your free consultation, call us now at 312-588-1900 or contact us online.