• Cook County Judge Vacates $25 Million Settlement
  • February 8, 2016
  • Law Firm: Heyl Royster Voelker Allen Professional Corporation - Peoria Office
  • This past June, claims of misconduct arose following a personal injury trial in Cook County, IL that settled just minutes before the jury returned a verdict for the defense. In October of 2015, the two sides to the settlement engaged in evidentiary hearings before Cook County Circuit Judge Daniel Joseph Lynch to determine whether a court clerk disclosed the contents of a jury note to plaintiffs' counsel that tipped him off to accept a $25 million settlement offer before the jury returned its verdict. On January 19, Judge Lynch vacated the $25 million settlement.

    In the underlying case, plaintiffs Scot Vandenberg and his wife sued Brunswick Corporation for compensation related to a fall aboard a yacht that left Vandenberg paralyzed from the neck down (another defendant, the charter company, had settled out of the case prior to trial). During deliberations of the four-week jury trial, a juror sent Cook County Associate Judge Elizabeth M. Budzinski a note asking if the jury could assign all liability to an "empty chair" defendant, suggesting the jury might rule in favor of Brunswick.

    According to the motion to vacate the settlement filed by the defendant's attorney, the judge's clerk called plaintiffs' counsel and disclosed the note's contents. Defense counsel's post-trial motion alleged that plaintiffs' counsel asked the judge's clerk to hold off on contacting defense counsel about the note so that plaintiffs' counsel could first settle the case.

    In his January 19 ruling, Judge Lynch vacated the settlement based on the finding that Judge Budzinski's clerk called defense counsel 27 minutes after she spoke to plaintiffs' counsel. However, Judge Lynch found no proof that plaintiffs' counsel directed the clerk to hold off in contacting plaintiffs' counsel. This matter is currently pending settlement negotiations, with a follow-up date before Judge Lynch on February 1.