Venue, in the legal context, means the court in which a case is filed. In Illinois state court, there are 102 counties in which a case can be filed. Additionally, there are three federal district courts (Northern, Central and Southern) in which a case can be filed.

Venue can have a tremendous effect on litigation and should not be overlooked. It can affect litigation in many ways, including the value of a claim and the convenience and expense of defending litigation.

Given its importance, a plaintiff’s choice of venue should never be taken for granted. As soon as possible after an accident or other incident, defendants and their attorneys must evaluate the likely choices for venue, the connection (or lack thereof) to those venues, what challenges those venues will present, and whether there are options for changing venue.

Venue is important because it determines the pool of jurors who will ultimately decide the case. Plaintiffs frequently look for any possible connection to file suit in a county known for high verdicts, such as Cook County (Chicago) or Madison County (Edwardsville) in Illinois. Many cases are filed in such counties, in spite of the fact that there may be no true connection between the facts of the case and that county.

Venue can also have an effect on the convenience and expense associated with defending a case. For example, due to the nature of the transportation industry, transportation and trucking companies are often forced to defend cases in jurisdictions in which they may have limited contacts. This creates great inconvenience for the company, requiring travel for the driver and several employees. It also makes communication and the transfer of any relevant documents more difficult. Such a situation increases the expenses associated with a case, and can turn a fairly routine case into something more challenging, or even problematic.

All state and federal courts provide options to defendants for 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 can be 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 is whether the defendant should remove 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 defendants reside in Wisconsin) and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. If these facts apply, and plaintiff has filed in state court, consideration should be given to removing the case to federal court. Depending on the facts of the case, litigating in federal court may be preferable to state court.

The importance of venue in litigation cannot be understated. It should be evaluated from the beginning of litigation to determine how the likely venues may affect the case, and whether, if available, steps should be taken to move the case to a more appropriate venue. iBi

Jessica Sarff is an associate at Heyl Royster, concentrating her practice in the areas of appellate law, commercial litigation, railroad litigation, trucking and insurance coverage.