Heyl Royster

James Kearns

Office Locations:

Champaign, IL

Phone: 217.344.0060

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Federal Court Trial Win on Multimillion Dollar Grain Bin Case - 10/19/2015

Six Recent NOT GUILTY Verdicts from Around the Firm - 11/08/2012


  • Juris Doctor, University of Illinois, 1975
  • Bachelor of Arts - History/Engineering, University of Notre Dame, 1966

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Heyl Royster



James Kearns (Senior Counsel)


Jim's practice has long concentrated on complex litigation involving major damages. He has handled cases in many areas of civil litigation, and is particularly experienced in the defense of professional liability cases involving medical malpractice, as well as in the areas of transportation law (railroad and airplane accidents), product liability, employment law, and the defense of civil rights cases. He has handled thousands of cases in his nearly 40-year career, many of them involving catastrophic injuries and/or death. 

He has been designated an Illinois Leading Lawyers based on a survey of Illinois attorneys conducted by the Law Bulletin Publishing Company (a designation only given to the top five percent of lawyers in the state), and as an Illinois "Super Lawyer" (which also recognizes the top five percent of lawyers in the state).

Jim is an Adjunct Professor at the University of Illinois College of Law where he teaches Pre-Trial Preparation. Jim has published chapters for the Illinois Institute of Continuing Legal Education (IICLE) on the subjects of product liability and the Illinois Structural Work Act, and has lectured for IICLE on these and other subjects. He has also presented on various aspects of tort law to the Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel, the University of Illinois School of Medicine, and several local medical groups.

Jim was a Captain in the United States Army, serving from 1967 to 1970. He has spent his legal career with Heyl Royster, beginning in 1975. For many years, he served as the Managing Partner of the firm's Urbana office.

Significant Cases

  • Sun v. Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois Successfully obtained summary judgment for the University of Illinois in litigation brought by unsuccessful tenure applicant; included vacating a default judgment against defendants for failure to comply with discovery while represented by prior counsel.
  • Woodard v. E.T., M.D. Successfully defended an obstetrician in cerebral palsy/catastrophic injury case in which damages were assessed against co-defendant in excess of $35 million.
  • Bauer v. S. Successfully defended emergency room physician following death of patient from aortic dissection.
  • Thompson v. D. Successfully defended pediatrician following the death of a small child due to undiagnosed appendicitis.
  • Dunn v. B&O Railroad Successfully upheld the duty of care for motorists in connection with a railroad crossing/wrongful death case, and upheld the strict definition of that duty of care following the adoption of comparative negligence by the Illinois Supreme Court.
  • Vibbert v. B&O Successfully defended B&O Railroad in automobile/train collision which resulted in severe injuries to driver and brain damage to passenger.
  • Dukes v. J.I. Case Established the right of a product manufacturer to bring a contribution action against the employer for that employer's negligence in connection with an injury to an employee.
  • Coleman v. Caterpillar Tractor Company Successfully defended Caterpillar in products liability action alleging defective equipment which cost the plaintiff the sight of one eye.
  • Biggers v. Hollymatic Defended product manufacturer in action by an employee of Wendy's for injuries which consisted of partial amputation of two fingers. Obtained 75% assumption of risk by plaintiff, and received contribution for 99.7625% of the remainder against the plaintiff's employer.
  • In re Guardianship of Babb Successfully overturned established Illinois law, resulting in a ban of the use of loan receipts to avoid contribution under the Illinois Contribution Act.

Professional Recognition

  • Martindale-Hubbell AV Rated
  • Selected as a Leading Lawyer in Illinois. Only five percent of lawyers in the state are named Leading Lawyers.
  • Named to the Super Lawyers list (2005-2011). The Super Lawyers selection process is based on peer recognition and professional achievement. Only five percent of the lawyers in each state earn this designation.

Professional Associations

  • American Bar Foundation (Fellow)
  • Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel
  • Defense Research Institute
  • International Association of Defense Counsel
  • American Judicature Society
  • American Bar Association
  • Illinois State Bar Association
  • Champaign County Bar Association

Court Admissions

  • State Courts of Illinois
  • United States District Court, Central, Southern and Northern Districts of Illinois (Trial Bar)
  • United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit
  • United States Supreme Court

Community Involvement

  • Citizen's Advisory Board Carle Foundation
  • University of Illinois College of LAS Alumni Association Board of Directors, 1982-1987
  • University of Illinois Foundation President's Council