ILLINOIS STANDARD FOR DIRECTED VERDICT IN BENCH TRIAL
Recently completed a case where my client was involved in a rear end collision with a large truck on a local highway. The case was tried to a judge and at the conclusion of my case the defense, as they always do, argued for a directed verdict. What I did not know at the time[but do now]is that the standard for a directed verdict motion in a bench trial is somewhat different than the standard utilized in a jury trial. In a jury trial, the court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, pursuant to Pedrick v. Peoria & Eastern R.R. Co. (Ill.1967), 37 Ill.2d 494, 229 N.E.2d 504. In a bench trial setting however, the standard as explained in 735 ILCS 5/2-1110, is a bit different. Section 5/2-1110 provides 2-1110. Motion in non-jury case to find for defendant at close of evidence. In all cases tried without a jury, defendant may, at the close of plaintiff’s case, move for a finding or judgment in his or her favor. In ruling on the motion the court shall weigh the evidence, considering the credibility of the witnesses and the weight and quality of the evidence. If the ruling on the motion is favorable to the defendant, a judgment dismissing the action shall be entered. If the ruling on the motion is adverse to the defendant, the defendant may proceed to adduce evidence in support of his or her defense, in which event the motion is waived. 735 ILCS 5/2-1110 Essentially, as explained in Kokinis v. Kotrich (Ill.1980) 81 Ill.2d 151, 40 Ill.Dec. 812, 407 N.E.2d 43, in a bench trial setting, the court follows a two step process. First, the Court must determine if the plaintiff has established his prima facie case. If not, the motion for directed finding should be granted. If the Court finds the plaintiff has established his prima facie case, the court must then weigh all the evidence, including evidence which favors the defendant. After weighing all the evidence, the court then applies the standard of proof required for the underlying cause to determine if sufficient proof remains to sustain the prima facie case. If the court decides the defendant’s evidence has negated any evidence necessary for plaintiff to prevail, the motion should be granted. If the defense has not negated any portion of the plaintiff’s case the motion should be denied. Thankfully, the court denied the motion and ultimately a significant six figure verdict was entered for my client. The case is presently on appeal.