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SGK Appellate Win: Dismissed Injury Case Can Proceed

The Chicago-based personal injury firm Steinberg Goodman & Kalish secured a new trial opportunity for a client in a wrongful-death lawsuit against a northwest-suburban hospital and the maker of the Da Vinci surgical system. 

After a successful appeal before the Illinois Appellate Court, SGK’s client can proceed with his lawsuit. 

“I’m grateful the appellate court recognized the extraordinary circumstances in this case, and we look forward to arguing the merits of the case in the circuit court,” said SGK associate Sarah L. Riess, who represented the plaintiff in the appeal.

Background: The Circuit Court of Cook County dismissed the plaintiff’s lawsuit in 2019 after his previous attorneys missed court appearances and key filing deadlines. A few months later, the plaintiff retained SGK as his new counsel.

Winning arguments

Riess argued it would be unfair to punish the plaintiff for the situation created by his previous counsel:

  • The plaintiff’s previous attorney, who has since been disbarred by the Illinois Supreme Court, abandoned his law firm, leaving it underfunded and understaffed. The firm never informed the plaintiff of the lawyer’s departure.
  • A semi-retired attorney from the same firm then picked up the case. He was undergoing radiation and chemotherapy at the time, causing memory loss, fatigue and confusion. But he never told the client about his illness until after the court dismissed the lawsuit.

What the justices said

In an unpublished order, Justice James Fitzgerald Smith wrote that the trial court abused its discretion when it dismissed the case. 

  • “[W]e find that any failure by the plaintiff to exercise due diligence was caused by circumstances beyond his control and that therefore ‘justice and good conscience’ required the circuit court to grant his section 2-1401 petition and vacate the dismissal of his action for want of prosecution.”
  • “Under these extraordinary circumstances, we believe that dismissal of the plaintiff’s meritorious action on a technicality, … would be unjust. Fairness requires that the plaintiff be given his day in court, and that he not be penalized for the brazen misconduct and serious illness of his former counsels…. Nor should the defendants be permitted to avoid any legal liability for their purported negligence on this basis.”

Featured in the news: Local and national legal press reported on the ruling.

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