Appellate Court Restores Quadriplegic Defense Verdict; Establishes Key Defense Law

September 20, 2018

The Illinois First Appellate District overturned a Cook County judge’s decision to order a new trial on a $30 million quadriplegic defense verdict that Patton & Ryan Partners John W. Patton, Jr. and Paul D. Motz obtained in May 2016. In so doing, the Appellate Court published its decision that both clarified and enhanced the application of the Sole Proximate Cause defense for defendants in Cook County.

This catastrophic personal injury/product liability action was brought by a professional jockey against Arlington Park and Churchill Downs. The Plaintiff was left paralyzed when his horse fell during a race at Arlington Park. The Plaintiff jockey alleged that it was Arlington Park’s use of a synthetic race track and the maintenance of that track that caused his paralysis. The Plaintiff’s wife also brought a loss of consortium claim against both of Patton & Ryan’s clients. The defense of this matter focused on both the actions of a jockey that the Plaintiffs never sued and the alleged improper maintenance that was never contemplated or required by the product manufacturer.

Patton & Ryan took over the defense as lead trial counsel a week before the trial was to begin. At that time, and after five years of litigation, the defense was unified with the product manufacturing defendants. On the eve of jury selection, the co-defendants settled, leaving only the racetrack as the Plaintiffs’ tar­get. Despite this settlement, the Court still allowed the Plaintiffs’ product liability theories to proceed against the racetrack owners.

After a four-week trial, the jury returned a defense verdict in less than eighty minutes. The jury also returned a special interrogatory in favor of the defendants on the issue of sole proximate cause. During post-trial motions, the trial court granted Plaintiffs’ request for a new trial on the basis that a defendant cannot avail itself of the sole proximate cause defense when there is evidence of two alternative sole proximate causes. The Appellate Court conclusively rejected this legal interpretation, stating: “the sole proximate cause theory should be just as viable with two or more nonparty actors as it is with a single nonparty.” The Court continued its reasoning: “the point is that the group of nonparties are exclusive in the sense that their collective negligence was 100% of the Plaintiff’s injury and the party-defendant’s contribution to the injury was zero.”