One of the founding partners at our firm, Attorney Steve Levin, will be presenting next month at an “Advanced Evidentiary Issues At Trial” seminar. More information on the event can be found at the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education (IICLE) website. The event will take place on January 25, 2013 at the UBS Tower & Conference Center. It will last all day.
The event will cover a range of topics. However, Steve will present on particularly complex issues in wrongful case cases, including application of the Illinois “Dead Man’s Act.” The Act is a tricky issue in many cases, and when not understood properly, it may prevent plaintiffs from obtaining full recovery following accidents where an important individual in the incident has died.
Dead Man’s Act in Illinois
Dead Man’s statutes were common across the country in the past, but many have been repealed in recent decades. However, Illinois is one state where the law is alive and well. Even though many have argued against its logic, Illinois courts have repeatedly upheld its application and continue to define its contours.
In general, the Act bars an “interested” party in litigation from testifying about events or conversations with someone who is dead. The basic idea is that it is too tempting for parties who have something to gain from making up false facts about an event or conversation with another person if that other person is not around to verify or refute the claims. This is actually a rather broad rule, and, when applicable, may mean the difference between winning a case or having it make it to trial at all.
As one might expect, much confusion exists over who counts as an “interested” party. Case law provides some guidance but attorneys must be prepared to argue the issue if it comes up. Additionally, while “conversations” are straightforward there is much disagreement about facts related to “events” can and cannot be testified about in connection to the decedent.
There are also a few exceptions where the Act does not apply or its protections are waived. Most notably, a protected party (the estate) can always “open the door” depending on what they introduce. For example, if the estate provides evidence suggesting information in some conversation with a decedent, then the opposing party will likely be able to discuss that conversation notwithstanding the Act.
Importantly, Illinois courts have ruled that application of statute applies at the summary judgment stage. That means that in cases where these issues might prove pivotal, attorneys cannot rely on getting to the jury and making the case creatively. They must first ensure there is sufficient evidence to prove a claim and survive a challenge from the other side even before trial.
At the seminar Attorney Levin will share information on these issues, other details of the Dead Man’s Act, and different evidentiary matters related to wrongful death actions. Be sure to check out the IICLE site above and register today.