Heyl Royster

Venue: A Key Factor in Trucking Litigation

february 26, 2015

Venue can have a tremendous effect on litigation, with some believing it can occasionally be more important than any single fact in a case. Venue affects litigation in many ways, including the value of a claim and the convenience and expense of defending litigation.

Given the importance of venue, plaintiffs' choice of venue should never be taken for granted. As soon as possible after an accident, defendants and their attorneys must evaluate the likely choices for venue, whether those venues are favorable, and if not favorable, the options for changing venue.

Venue is important because it determines the pool of jurors that will ultimately decide the case. Plaintiffs frequently do anything possible to file suit in a county known for high verdicts, such as Cook County (Chicago) or Madison County (Edwardsville) in Illinois. Accordingly, venue can have a substantial impact on the value of a case at all stages of litigation.

Venue can also have an effect on the convenience and expense associated with defending a case. Trucking companies are often forced to defend cases in jurisdictions with which they may have limited contacts. Unfortunately, it is not unusual for a trucking company based on the East Coast to have to defend a case in the Midwest or Western part of the United States, despite not having any terminals or offices in that state. This obviously creates great inconvenience for the company, requiring travel for the driver and several employees. It also generally makes communication and the transfer of any relevant documents more difficult. Such a situation increases the expenses associated with a case and can often turn a fairly routine case into a more challenging, even problematic, case.

All state and federal courts provide options to defendants in attempting to change venue. If venue is improper, defendants can seek to have the case transferred to the proper venue, or even dismissed due to improper venue (in federal court). If venue is proper yet nonetheless inconvenient (forum non conveniens), defendants can seek to have the case transferred to a more convenient forum. This presents a somewhat difficult hurdle to overcome, given that plaintiff's choice of venue is generally given great deference by the court. The court weighs several public and private interest factors, such as the convenience for witnesses, the location of pertinent evidence, the interests of the citizens of the venue in deciding the case and the congestion of the court docket.

Another consideration relevant to venue is whether the defendant should consider removing a case from state to federal court. Through diversity of citizenship (28 U.S.C. §1332), removal is allowed when none of the plaintiffs reside in the same state as any of the defendants (for example, if the plaintiff resides in Illinois and the defendant truck driver and company reside in Wisconsin) and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. If these facts apply and plaintiff has filed in state court, serious consideration should be given to removing the case to federal court. We believe litigating high-stakes cases in federal court is preferable to state court for several reasons, including: the jurisdiction is often more conservative, the rules are applied more rigidly, i.e., less gamesmanship tolerated, plaintiff's counsel may be more uncomfortable/less experienced in federal court, the chances of obtaining summary judgment are increased, and there is typically less time spent in discovery before trying the case.

The importance of venue in trucking litigation cannot be understated. Venue should be evaluated from the beginning of litigation to determine if the likely venues are favorable to the defendant, as well as options directed to getting the case in a more appropriate venue.

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