The Illinois Supreme Court issued a recent opinion in an Illinois truck accident case, addressing whether Cook County was the proper venue for the plaintiff’s lawsuit. The plaintiff was driving a tractor-trailer when another tractor-trailer slammed into his truck. The plaintiff suffered serious injuries requiring amputation of both legs. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the truck driver for the negligent operation of a vehicle and his employer under the agency theory of liability. The plaintiff filed the lawsuit in Cook County, arguing that the venue was proper because one of the defendant’s employees maintained a “home office” in Cook County. In the alternative, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant was “doing business” in the county. The defendant moved to transfer venue, and the circuit court denied their motion.
Illinois has long held that the purpose of the venue statute is to ensure that “that the action will be brought either in a location convenient to the defendant, by providing for venue in the county of residence, or convenient to potential witnesses, by allowing for venue where the cause of action arose.” Venue choice is a defendant’s privilege and reflects the idea that defendants should not have to defend a lawsuit in a county where they do not conduct business, maintain an office, or where no part of the incident occurred. Where venue is in dispute, the defendant bears the burden of establishing that the venue is improper. The law distinguishes between improper venue and forum non conveniens. The latter asks the court to move the claim from one proper venue to another. Unlike forum non conveniens, improper venue issues are strictly statutory and do not concern public or private interests.
In this case, the accident occurred in Ohio, and no part of the action occurred in Cook County. In determining whether the defendant had an office in Cook County, it had to establish whether the defendant’s home office was an office “of” the defendant. In this case, the court reasoned that the defendant did not “purposely select” Cook County to carry on its business activities. Instead, it chose the employee to provide customer service to clients. They did not choose the employee based on his location, and it did not play a role in his hiring. Further, the defendant did not own, pay, or lease any expenses associated with the employee’s home office. Ultimately, the court found that the fact that the employee did work for the defendant from his office is insufficient to bolster the plaintiff’s claim that the home office was the defendant’s “other office”.