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IL Supreme Court Re-Affirms Def. Entitled to Evidence of Sole Proximate Cause
On June 30, 2009, the Illinois Second District Appellate Court revisited its opinion in the Ready v. United/Goedecke case and further clarified Nolan v. Weil-McLain making it clear that defendants should not be required to do anything other than deny that they are a proximate cause in order to put on “other exposure evidence” in asbestos litigation. That issue has now been re-addressed on second petition to the Illinois Supreme Court in Ready v. United/Goedecke.
The Court restated its position that a defendant has a right to introduce evidence that some other person or entity was the sole proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injury (quoting Nolan). The Court then stated that like the trial court in Nolan, the trial court in Ready erred in excluding evidence that would have supported the defendant’s sole proximate cause defense. The defendant United should have been entitled to present evidence to support a sole proximate cause jury instruction and the only question that remained was whether that evidence would have entitled United to such an instruction. The court stated that “there must be some evidence to justify an instruction, and the second paragraph of IP Civil (2000) No. 12.04 should be given where there is evidence, albeit slight and unpersuasive, tending to show that the sole proximate cause of the accident was the conduct of a party other than the defendant.” (citing its first address of this issue in Leonardi v. Loyola University of Chicago). However, the Illinois Supreme Court decided that while the Ready trial court made an error in excluding defendant’s proposed evidence, the error was not of sufficient magnitude to require a new trial given that even a properly instructed jury would not have reached a different verdict based on the significant evidence that United was a proximate cause of the accident. If United was a proximate cause, then the settling defendants could not have been the sole proximate cause. Consequently, the Supreme Court reversed the appellate court which ordered a new trial.
While the Supreme Court found the error to be harmless, it reiterated the defedant’s right to put on evidence of sole proximate cause which is good news for defendants, especially in asbestos litigation.