LAWYER CAN'T SIGN RULE 216 REQUEST TO ADMIT FOR MISSING CLIENT
The First District Appellate Court recently handed down an opinion precluding lawyers from signing Requests to Admit responses for their clients, even if the client can’t be found. In Brookbank v. Olson, counsel for the plaintiff, Lauren Brookbank, served Requests to Admit regarding the reasonableness of Ms. Brookbank’s medical bills on the defendant, Katie Ann Olson. Under Illnois Supreme Court Rule 216, a party may serve another party with a list of facts seeking admission of those facts. The concept behind the Request to Admit is to narrow the roster of contested issues. The party[i.e. the client] served with a Request to Admit Facts must respond within 28 days, with a signed statement denying the the matters for which admission is sought, or setting forth in detail the reasons he cannot truthfully admit or deny those matters. If the served party fails to do so, the matters set forth in the Request are deemed admitted. Brookbank’s lawyers issued the Request to Admit in an effort to have the reasonableness of the medical bills admitted before trial. If they were admitted, then the bills could simply be introduced at trial with no foundation necessary.
Olson’s attorneys, hired by her insurer, advised the Court they could not find their client, even after they sent an investigator out to look for her. Brookbank’s counsel then moved to have the matters deemed admitted, but Olson’s lawyers asked the trial court if they could sign and verify the request for their client. The Court allowed them to do so, but then directed that the issue of whether lawyers could sign for their clients be reviewed by the Appellate Court.
The Appellate Court reversed the trial court. The Court noted that the plaint language of Rule 216 calls for the sworn statement to be made by the party. The Court noted that without any client contact, the attorney’s sworn statement is meaningless, as there is no indication the party signed off on the responses. The defendant did raise a good point – most clients have no idea about the reasonableness of medical bills and would have to rely on their attorney. The Appellate Court acknowledged that the ruling would leave lawyers faced with a Request to Admit in a tricky position if they can’t locate their client. That issue however, they decided to leave for the Illinois Supreme Court to decide. As it stands now, lawyers can’t sign for their clients.