Next month the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education (IICLE) will present a seminar entitled “Advanced Evidentiary Issues At Trial.” The day-long event will take place on January 25th and be held at the UBS Tower & Conference Center.
One of the founding partners at our firm, Steve Levin, is a presenter at the seminar. Attorney Levin is scheduled to speak about complex evidentiary issues as they relate to various wrongful death cases. That includes a discussion about Illinois’s “Dead Man’s Act.”
The law is somewhat confusing, but it has significant implications on many cases where a party is deceased. Many cases have not made it to trial or were unsuccessful at trial because of adverse complications as a result of the restrictions of the Act. It is critical that all litigators understand understand how the statute may affect future cases.
The Dead Man’s Act in Illinois
Even though it has been abolished in many other jurisdictions, Illinois courts have upheld the application of the Dead Man’s statute. Essentially, the law is a limitation on evidence that can be introduced as it relates to individuals who have died. Specifically, the law bars testimony from “interested” parties about conversations with the decedent or events where the decedent was present. In certain situations this acts as a very significant barrier to obtaining sufficient evidence to prove a claim. Many attorneys are forced to come up with alternative ways to get a story included or to have the Act not apply. And because it applies in summary judgement actions, it can lead to a case being thrown out even before reaching the jury.
For one thing, because the Act only bars the testimony of interested parties, it is often important to find non-interested parties who can testify on the same details. Many cases have been decided which outline who is or is not an interested party. In general though, anyone who stands to gain or lose directly as a result of the matter would be deemed an interested party. It would not apply to those who may have certain personal relationships with another who is an interested party.
Also, it may be possible to get certain evidence admitted by arguing that it does not apply directly to a “conversation” or “event.” The conversation limitation is less ambiguous, but much uncertainty reigns regarding what details of an event are barred and which are not.
Beyond suggesting that the testimony doesn’t fall under the Act’s reach, one other alternative is to argue that the opposing party “opened the door” to the material. The party protected by the Act can shed that protection if they introduce material hinting at details of the prohibited conversation or event. If they do so, as a matter of fairness, the previously barred party may be able to speak of the event or conversation in rebuttal.
There is much more to this statute and other complex evidentiary rules in wrongful death cases. Consider attending next month’s seminar to get much more comprehensive information on the subject directly from Attorney Levin.