Chicago personal injury lawyers occasionally represent difficult clients, including those that are sometimes difficult to locate. The Illinois Appellate Court for the First District recently decided a case that stresses the importance of effective, timely communication between the client and his or her personal injury lawyer.
In Brookbank v. Olson, No. 1-08-1069 (Ill. App. Ct. 1st Dist. April 8, 2009), the plaintiff brought a personal injury negligence lawsuit arising out of a car accident. The plaintiff issued a Request to Admit Facts pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 216(c), which sought admission from the defendant that: (1) an attached exhibit was a true and accurate statement of the plaintiff’s medical expenses; (2) the charges were fair, reasonable and customary charges for the medical services performed; and (3) the charges were related to the injuries suffered as a result of the accident. The defense counsel objected to the requests to admit, and stated that he was “unable to contact [d]efendant to determine the veracity of any admission or denial.” Defense counsel was also unable to produce his client for a deposition. Defense counsel then signed and verified the responses in defendant’s absence, denying the matters of which admission was requested.
The trial court certified the following question of law for consideration by the appellate court: “Whether the trial court has authority to allow only a party’s attorney to sign and verify a response to a Rule 216 request to admit facts, when the attorney cannot locate the party, i.e., his client.” The appellate court held that the Chicago car accident lawyer cannot sign and verify a response to a Request to Admit Facts, even when he cannot locate his client.
The appellate court stated that Rule 216(c), as well as supporting Illinois case law, including Moy v. Ng, 341 Ill. App. 3d 984 (2003) and Vision Point of Sale Inc. v. Haas, 226 Ill. 2d 334 (2007), require responses to requests to admit “by the parties and not by their attorneys.” Further, the rule requires that “the party to whom the requests to admit are directed must serve upon the requesting party either the sworn statement denying the matters of which admission is requested or written objections which need not be sworn.” Therefore, a personal injury lawyer may serve written objections on the client’s behalf.
The court acknowledged instances where an Illinois car accident lawyer may be compelled to enter an appearance despite the inability to locate a client, such as where an insurer has a duty to defend its insured under its policy. In such a case, the court’s ruling places the client (and his or her lawyer) in a difficult position when the client cannot be located. Nevertheless, the appellate court stated that “these policy issues are properly addressed to the consideration of the supreme court,” which has the authority to revise the rules.