Pointing to the Empty Chair – Illinois Reaffirms the 'Sole Proximate Cause' Defense

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Last week, the Illinois Supreme Court in Ready v. United/Goedecke Services, Inc., --- N.E.2d ---, 2010 WL 4126244 (Ill. Oct. 21, 2010) (Ready II), reaffirmed the availability of the sole proximate cause defense during trial. As its name suggests, this defense permits a defendant to introduce evidence that the conduct of a settling co-defendant(s) was the cause of the plaintiff's injuries at the time of trial. This opinion, a sequel to the court's 2008 decision in Ready v. United/Goedecke Services, Inc., 905 N.E.2d 725 (Ill. 2008) (Ready I), decided two issues left open by the court in Ready I pertaining to the admissibility and use of evidence, at trial, of a settling party's culpability.

In Ready I, the court addressed the question of whether a settling co-defendant's name can be included on the jury verdict form for purposes of apportioning fault among the various jointly and severally liable defendants. The Illinois Supreme Court answered that question in the negative, holding that a settling co-defendant's name cannot be included on the jury verdict form. The court arrived at this decision by interpreting the language of Section 2-1117 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-1117), known as the Illinois Joint and Several Liability statute.

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