On June 13, 2017, the Illinois First District Appellate Court issued an unpublished opinion holding that a Cook County judge erred in denying a forum non conveniens motion where essentially the entire case rests not in Plaintiffs’ chosen forum of Cook County, but in Winnebago County.
The doctrine of forum non conveniens is premised on “considerations of fundamental fairness and sensible and effective judicial administration.” It assumes that more than one forum possesses the power to hear a case, but permits a court to decline jurisdiction where another forum can “better serve the convenience of the parties and the ends of justice.” In determining whether to accept or decline jurisdiction, the court must balance private interest factors affecting the convenience of the litigants and public interest factors affecting the administration of the courts.
The private interest factors the court considers include the convenience of the parties; the relative ease of access to testimonial and documentary evidence; and other practical matters, which tend to make a trial “easy, expeditious, and inexpensive.” The public interest factors include the interest in deciding controversies locally; the unfairness of imposing trial expense and the burden of jury duty on residents of a forum with little connection to the litigation; and adding litigation to already congested court dockets.
In cases such as Rohl, where the primary issue is one of product liability, Illinois courts have found that the location of the accident is less significant and largely supplanted by a more general interest in resolving a claim concerning an allegedly defective product. Also, because a jury visit to the accident site is generally unnecessary, the significance of this factor is further diminished in product liability claims. On appeal, forum non conveniens decisions are evaluated using an abuse of discretion standard in Illinois. Therefore, it is somewhat of an understatement to say that it is difficult to overturn a trial court’s decision regarding a forum non conveniens motion in Illinois, particularly in a product liability case.
Here, Plaintiffs Irvin and Marlene Rohl sued several defendants in Cook County alleging that asbestos exposure led to Mr. Rohl’s fatal lung cancer. Certain defendants filed motions to transfer the matter from Cook County to Winnebago County under the doctrine of forum non conveniens. The Cook County trial judge denied the motions, citing Mr. Rohl’s attendance at a trade school in Cook County in the late 1940s where, according to the Court’s ruling, Mr. Rohl was exposed to asbestos. The appellate court initially denied the petition for review of the trial court’s denial of the forum non conveniens motion. However, in December 2016, the Illinois Supreme Court entered a supervisory order directing the appellate court to grant the petition and resolve the forum non conveniens motion on its merits.
The complaint, filed in January 2016, alleged that Mr. Rohl was exposed to asbestos through his employment as a laborer, heavy-equipment operator, and mechanic from 1950 until 1999. Specifically, Plaintiffs