Appellate Court Affirms Denial to Transfer Medical Malpractice Case From Cook County to Kankakee County – Isom v. Riverside Medical Center

A Cook County judge denied a defendant’s motion for a change of venue in an Illinois wrongful death case despite the fact that several defendants and witnesses did not live in Cook County. And even though the trial judge did deny the venue change, he expressed his discomfort with the lack of clear guidelines when deciding venue. Despite this apparent confusion, the appellate court affirmed his decision in Susan Isom v. Riverside Medical Center, et al., No. 1-11-0426.

The case at issue in Isom dealt with a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Susan Isom on behalf of her late son, Tyrone Brooks. According to Isom’s Cook County lawsuit, Brooks’s death was due to the failure of the defendant doctors and clinics to diagnose Brooks’s sickle cell anemia. The alleged medical malpractice or the validity of the estate’s wrongful death claims were not the issue of the appellate court’s appeal; the court was simply examining whether Cook County was the correct venue for the claim.

The appellate court noted that the determination regarding a case’s venue is at the discretion of the trial court, which must consider both public and private interest factors when deciding the issue of venue. The court noted that the relevant private factors include the venue’s convenience to the parties, the ease of access to sources of evidence in that venue, and any other practical problems. Public factors would then include the interest in deciding controversies locally, the burden of imposing expenses on forums with little connections to the controversy, and docket congestion.

When considering these factors, the court tends to favor the plaintiff’s choice of forum; therefore, whichever venue happens to include the site of injury and/or plaintiff’s residence tends to be the clear venue. However, in Isom, neither of these factors was clearly established. While the decedent was treated in Cook County, he also received treatment in Kankakee County. Also, the lawsuit was filed by Susan Isom, who was a resident of McLean County.

However, in order to move the court to change the venue, the defendant must show that he/she “strongly favors” a specific forum in order to carry their motion for forum non conveniens. Therefore, the defendant must not only show that another forum is more convenient to all parties, but also that the current forum is inconvenient.

In Isom, all but one of the named defendants resided outside of Cook County. In fact, Riverside Medical Center, Riverside Healthcare Foundation, Exceptional Health Partners, S.C., and Dr. Alford were all based out of Kankakee County, while Michael Simpson resided in Wisconsin. Dr. Collins was the only defendant who resided in Cook County, yet he also joined the defendants’ motion for a change of venue.

The defendants argued that the Cook County venue was inconvenient for not only the majority of the defendants, but the majority of the witnesses as well. According to the Isom’s discovery, there were twenty-one potential trial witnesses. Of those witnesses, twelve resided in Kankakee County, with only eight residing in Cook County. Again, the defendants’ general argument seemed to be that Kankakee County would be more convenient for a greater number of people and therefore should be the trial venue.
However, the trial court denied the defendants’ motion based on its conclusion that the parties failed to show an “overwhelming” justification for preferring Kankakee County jurisdiction over Cook County. The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s ruling, stating that in cases where potential trial witnesses are scattered among various counties and the litigation has connections to several forums, the trial court does not abuse its discretion when it denies defendants’ motion to transfer.

The appellate court then went on to explain its reasoning as to why neither private or public factors deemed the case’s removal to another venue. Concerning the private factors, the court noted that although most of the defendants and trial witnesses were located in Kankakee County, there was one defendant located in Cook County. In addition, given that one defendant was located in Wisconsin, the court assumed that he would actually find Cook County more convenient than Kankakee County. Also, the court pointed in our current digital age, the argument for the location of documentary evidence was not a significant consideration, therefore eliminating another possible reason for transferring the case.

And as for the public factors, the appellate court pointed out that the defendants were unable to claim that Cook County did not have any interest in deciding the case considering that one of the defendants resided in Cook County. And as far as congestion of dockets, the defendants had failed to establish that the Kankakee docket was any less congested than the Cook County docket. Therefore, neither private nor public factors that favored venue transfer were present in this case. The appellate court found that there was no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s denial of the motion and affirmed its decision to try the case in Cook County.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Cook County medical malpractice matters for individuals and families for more than 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and surrounding areas, including Waukegan, LaGrange, Romeoville, Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, Calumet Park, and Alsip.

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