Steven M. Puiszis is a well-known and highly experienced trial attorney and mediator with a wide-ranging litigation and trial practice, who stopped counting after having taken more than 40 civil and criminal jury trials to verdict. He is one of the few attorneys nationally who has ever successfully defended through trial a federal class-action lawsuit.
Mr. Puiszis served as the Secretary-Treasurer and was a member of the Board of Directors of the DRI and is a past president of the Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel. He is the author of “Illinois Governmental Tort and Section 1983 Civil Rights Liability,” and municipal and civil rights law are two of the primary areas of his practice.
Mr. Puiszis has handled a variety of claims in state and federal court on behalf of various units of state and local government. For example, he successfully represented the Governor and several other state officials in a civil rights action where the plaintiffs initially sought to certify a class of all developmentally disabled adults in Illinois who failed to receive residential Medicaid services on a timely basis.
He also successfully defended the Secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services and several other state officials while serving as lead counsel in a class-action trial involving Illinois’ Sexually Violent Persons Commitment Act (SVP) Program. That matter involved a variety of constitutional challenges brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against Illinois’ SVP Program.
In 2004, Mr. Puiszis obtained a defense verdict in a jury trial on behalf of a Cook County Assistant Public Defender in a legal malpractice action. In that case, the plaintiff had been convicted of a rape which he did not commit and sentenced to 36 years in prison.
DNA testing, which occurred years after the conviction and sentence were affirmed on appeal, established the plaintiff’s innocence. The underlying criminal trial involved complex scientific issues, and Mr. Puiszis convinced the jury that his client’s strategy for dealing with those issues at the criminal trial was both reasonable and appropriate. That case is believed to be the first legal malpractice case against a public defender taken to verdict in Illinois.
A number of matters involving the use of deadly force and claims of wrongful prosecution that he has handled on behalf of law enforcement officials in federal court have resulted in published appellate opinions affirming summary judgment in his client’s favor.
Mr. Puiszis also represented the DuPage County Board on issues stemming from the “DuPage 7” criminal prosecution. He has also been requested to defend the Sheriff of Cook County in a series of putative class actions stemming from procedures followed at the Cook County Jail, which is the largest single-site jail in the country.
In one of the municipal matters handled by Mr. Puiszis, (Zimmerman v. Village of Skokie), the Illinois Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the use of the common law’s “public duty” doctrine to override statutory immunities available under the Illinois Tort Immunity Act. That decision substantially broadened the scope of protection available to local public entities and their employees under the Act.
Another matter he handled before the Illinois Supreme Court (Arteman vs. Clinton Community Unit School District) clarified the interplay of immunities between the Illinois School Code and the Tort Immunity Act, and substantially broadened the scope of protection available to school districts in Illinois.
As a result of that decision, Illinois school districts can now raise the Tort Immunity Act as defense to claims involving the provision of defective equipment and the failure to provide safety equipment to its students.
Mr. Puiszis’ litigation background is not strictly limited to the representation of local units of government or state and local officials. He has also successfully handled numerous professional liability claims on behalf of attorneys, architects, engineers and various health care providers.
With his background in accounting, he has also been asked to handle matters involving sophisticated accounting and tax issues, including the representation of lawyers and accountants in professional liability matters. He has also successfully handled various types of product liability claims.
Mr. Puiszis joined Hinshaw in January 1984. He is the firm’s General Counsel – Privacy, Security & Compliance and also serves as Hinshaw’s Privacy and Security Officer. Mr. Puiszis began his legal career in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office where he served in the Special Prosecution and General Criminal Divisions.
He is a member of the firm’s business litigation practice group and electronic discovery committee. He also served as the head of the firm’s school law group, and was the editor of the firm’s school law newsletter, The Report Card.
Mr. Puiszis is a member of DRI. He served as Secretary-Treasurer (2013 – 2014) of DRI after having served on DRI’s Board of Directors (2010 – 2014). In addition, Mr. Puiszis served on DRI’s Amicus Committee and is the former Chair of its Judicial Task Force (2010 – 2013).
In 2013, Mr. Puiszis was appointed the Chair of a Task Force formed by DRI’s Center for Law and Public Policy, directed at proposed legislation dealing with asset freezing orders drafted by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. The following video addresses some of the issues involving the proposed Asset Freezing Orders Act.
Professional Affiliations :
- American Bar Association
- Fellow, American Bar Foundation
- Past Vice Chair
- Society of Trial Lawyers
- Association of Defense Trial Attorneys (ADTA)
- International Association of Defense Counsel (IADC)
- Association of Defense Trial Attorneys (ADTA)
Representative Matters :
- Served as co-lead trial counsel for the target defendant, building owner, in 21 lawsuits consolidated for trial stemming from the fire at the Cook County Administration Building in downtown Chicago, which resulted in 6 deaths and 16 people injured, in which approximately 300 witnesses were deposed. A key immunity ruling against the City of Chicago resulted in the City paying $50 million of the $100 million settlement. This was a landmark case in Cook County civil court history.
- Siemens Energy & Automation, Inc. – In a span of approximately 18 months, Mr. Puiszis obtained summary judgment in five separate product liability actions involving wrongful death and personal injury claims allegedly resulting from defects in different products manufactured by Furnas Electric Co., a division of Siemens.
In the area of professional liability, Mr. Puiszis handled a claim resulting in the first reported Illinois appellate decision interpreting the Accountant’s Privity Statute in Chestnut v. Pestine, Branati, et al., reported at 607 N.E.2d 543. He also represented a Dallas-based law firm in a professional liability claim filed in federal district court in St. Louis, Missouri, arising from that firm’s handling of an antitrust lawsuit on behalf of a local telephone company against several of the “Baby Bells.” The underlying antitrust lawsuit involved the manner in which long distance phone calls were billed and reimbursed. The case was ultimately settled for a modest amount, and for a fraction of the settlement demand made before Mr. Puiszis assumed the defense.
- J.D., Loyola University Chicago School of Law, 1979
- B.Sc., highest honors, DePaul University, 1976
- U.S. Supreme Court
- Federal Trial Bar
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
- U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois
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