Illinois Court of Appeal Reverses Summary Judgment for Defendant in Car Accident Case Where the Plaintiff Passed Away Before Trial

In some serious accidents, the victim passes away before they are able to bring a lawsuit to recover damages. This is not only an incredibly traumatic experience for the victim’s loved ones, but it also leaves a number of questions regarding what happens to the lawsuit and whether justice will still be served. At Therman Law Offices, we represent the victims of Chicago car accidents and assist them with recovering the compensation that they deserve. Our team of legal professionals will make sure that you understand your rights and that your family has the financial recovery it deserves.

Recently, the Illinois Court of Appeal considered whether a lower court properly granted summary judgment in a case involving a plaintiff who passed away due to circumstances unrelated to the accident while his lawsuit was pending. The plaintiff alleged that the other driver swerved into his lane of travel and sideswiped his vehicle. The plaintiff and the defendant were the only witnesses to the accident. The plaintiff passed away after the case was filed, and the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment claiming that the plaintiff’s representative could not prove negligence because there were no other witnesses.

Although an officer reported to the accident, by the time he arrived, both vehicles involved in the accident had been moved to the side of the road. As a result, the defendant argued that the officer was unable to testify to shed light on whether the defendant was negligent. The defendant also argued that the plaintiff’s deposition could not be used as evidence. Under an Illinois discovery statute, the party seeking to use a deposition transcript as evidence when a witness has passed away must show that there are “rare, but compelling, circumstances” that justify the use of the deposition.

The lower court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment based on the Illinois Dead-Man’s Act. In general, this statute prevents the admission of testimony from someone who has an interest in the litigation about a conversation with or event occurring in the presence of the person who died. In other words, it is meant to protect someone who is no longer able to rebut or refute testimony involving them because they have passed away.

The plaintiff appealed, and the reviewing court reversed the grant of summary judgment for the defendant finding that there were genuine issues of material fact regarding whether the defendant was negligent. The appellate court concluded that the defendant waived the protection that the Dead-Man’s Act provided when he attached the transcript of the decedent’s discovery deposition to the motion for summary judgment. The decedent had no reason to know he was ill or at risk of passing away when he gave the deposition, and the transcript showed that he understood the questions posed and gave responsive answers.

If you were hurt in a car accident or are related to someone who recently passed away before a car accident case has concluded, contact Therman Law Offices to learn more about your legal rights and options. This is such an overwhelming and painful time for the parties involved. Our Chicago car accident lawyers will work diligently on your behalf to build the strongest case possible so you can focus on healing. Call 773-545-8849 or contact us online to get started.

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