The Illinois Civil Practice Act specifically allows a plaintiff to amend a complaint at any time. However, some trial judges have been prohibiting the amendment of complaints just prior to or during trial, and then limiting the evidence presented at trial to the issues set out in the initial complaint. This limitation on the evidence heard by a jury is not based on any Illinois law, and denies plaintiffs the right to a resolution of the case on the merits.
By the time a case gets to trial, after many years of discovery, there is always relevant, material evidence that a jury should consider that was not available when the plaintiff fi led his complaint. Then, when the time comes for the trial court to instruct the jury on the issues they must decide, even more evidence exists—the testimony of lay and opinion witnesses, admissions, concessions obtained through vigorous cross-examination of lay and expert witnesses.
Based on the Illinois Civil Practice Act, and over a hundred years of Illinois law, trial courts must permit plaintiffs to amend their complaints, and present their case to the jury, based on the evidence elicited before and during trial. The role of the trial court must be to ensure that juries decide cases based on the evidence at trial—not statements made many years earlier in a pleading. In situations where discovery and trial have revealed new truths—and new claims—Illinois law protects the plaintiff’s ability to amend her complaint at any time, to conform the pleading to the proofs. By following the law, trial courts will fulfill their role of ensuring juries decide cases based on their merits.
Read Christopher T. Hurley and Mark R. McKenna’s recent article in the Trial Journal of the Illinois Trial Lawyer’s Association: Amending Complaints Before, During and After Trial — Summer 2020