Illinois Car Accident Case Reviewed For Application of Dead Man’s Act – Balma v. Henry

The Illinois Appellate Court recently reviewed a trial court’s summary judgment ruling in an Illinois auto accident case. The trial court had granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment under the Dead Man’s Act following the death of Edward Henry, one of the defendants. However, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed the lower court’s decision and remanded the Illinois personal injury claim back to the trial court. Ladys Balma and Linda Gallup v. Edward Henry and Cynthia Grosvenor, No. 2-09-1301.

The Illinois Code of Civil Procedure has an act called The Dead Man’s Act (735 ILCS 5/8‑201). In Balma, the defendant Edward Henry died before the case came up for trial. Henry’s estate and the other defendant, Cynthia Grosvenor, brought a motion for summary judgment, citing the Dead Man’s Act as grounds for the Illinois personal injury case‘s dismissal.

Under the Dead Man’s Act, “no adverse party or person directly interested in the action shall be allowed to testify on his or her own behalf to any conversation with the deceased . . . or to any event which took place in the presence of the deceased.” Therefore, the defendants in Balma argued that because the decedent’s evidence deposition had not been taken that there was no testimony that could be used in his defense at trial. The trial court agreed and therefore granted the motion for summary judgment, which in essence dismissed the Illinois auto accident case.

However, in its review of this decision, the appellate court cited the Illinois Supreme Court’s ruling in Estate of Rennick, 181 Ill.2d 395 (1998), which stated that in the event that a discovery deposition of the deceased party had been taken that that testimony could be admissible at trial. In Balma the decedent’s discovery deposition had in fact been taken four months prior to his death.

A discovery deposition is the preliminary form of testimony taken during ‘discovery’ proceedings, which is the portion of time used to discover the facts of a given case. Typically a discovery deposition would not serve as evidence during a trial. Trial testimony given under oath before the jury is the traditional form of testimony admitted for evidence. However, in the event that a party is not able to appear in court, then an evidence deposition is taken and used as a substitute for the live trial testimony.

And in the event of a party’s death, according to the court’s ruling in Rennick, a discovery deposition can also be submitted as evidence. Therefore, the lower court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ claims in Balma under the Dead Man’s Act was in error. The Illinois auto accident case was remanded to the lower court and would be sent to trial.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois car accident cases for over 30 years, serving those areas in and around Cook County, including Elmhurst, Chicago Heights, Roscoe Village, and Orland Park.

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