By: Jonathan W. Goken
Johnson & Bell, Ltd.
are finding it increasingly more common for plaintiffs seeking punitive damages
to dig into the defendants' financial status and net worth through discovery. Because of the personal nature of such
requests, defense attorneys constantly try to protect their clients from having
to disclose this information by objecting to such requests. This begs the question, "In Illinois, do defense attorneys actually have
a 'leg to stand on' when contesting the requested disclosure of their client's
financial health in a punitive damages case?" A recent review of Illinois case law on this issue suggests
that they probably do not.
the mid 1990's, the Illinois appellate court, in Pickering v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp, was confronted with the
issue of what was discoverable in a case involving a claim for punitive
damages. 265 Ill.App. 3d 806 (5th
Dist. 1994). While addressing this
issue, the Pickering
court provided a brief overview of Illinois'
discovery requirements, as set forth in Illinois Supreme Court Rule 201, and
highlighted the fact that the scope of discovery in this State is limited to
"any matter relevant to the subject
matter involved in a pending action." Id.
at 823. Notably, the court pointed out
that "relevant information" does not only include information that is
admissible at trial, but also encompasses information which could reasonably lead to the production
of admissible evidence at trial. Id. Not
surprising, the courts have "considerable latitude" in deciding what
constitutes relevant information for discovery purposes. Id.
is well established that "evidence of a defendant's net worth and pecuniary
position may be introduced in a case in which punitive damages [are] an
citing Fopay v. Noveroske, 31
Ill.App. 3d 182 (5th Dist. 1975).
Hence, plaintiffs are permitted to seek information, through discovery,
which is reasonably calculated to discovering defendant's net worth or fiscal
wellbeing. Id. Notably, while some of the information
sought may ultimately be held inadmissible for trial purposes, the information
is nevertheless discoverable so long as the information sought may eventually lead to admissible
evidence at trial. Id.
Illinois does not stand
alone on this issue. Many, if not most,
jurisdictions allow discovery into a defendant's financial condition in cases seeking
recovery for punitive damages.
Moreover, most courts in this county, Illinois included, "do not require a prima facie showing of merit on a claim for punitive
damages before permitting discovery of a defendant's financial net worth." Platcher
v. Heath Professionals, Ltd., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68838 (C.D. Ill.
defendants placed in the predicament of having to defend against cases seeking
punitive damages, should anticipate the very real possibility that their
opposition may eventually end up seeking the disclosure of information which
relates to the defendant's personal wealth.
history of considering this information "relevant," defendants should also,
unfortunately, expect the courts to compel them to release this information during
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