Photo of Dennis J. Cotter

Dennis J. Cotter


Practice Areas


DePaul University College of Law, J.D.

University of Notre Dame, B.B.A., Accounting



Litigating cases involving high-stakes multi-million dollar exposures is nothing new to Dennis. As a senior member of the firm’s business and tort litigation group, he has been defending construction, industrial and commercial clients in the courtroom for more than 30 years, in cases ranging from catastrophic injury, construction defect, commuter rail and FELA and commercial contract disputes, to product liability, medical malpractice, professional liability and more. He is no stranger to the courtroom, having successfully represented clients in jury trials his entire career. Consequently, clients routinely seek Dennis’ guidance and advice regarding problematic disputes and whether to seek early resolution or win at trial. He is a key member of the firm’s catastrophic loss and emergency response teams, as well as the OSHA practice. 

Dennis encourages his clients to remain involved and proactive during litigation, testing theories and strategies and asking the tough questions about the issues and outcomes. It is in this way that he learns more about his clients’ businesses, and as a result, becomes not only their litigation counsel, but a trusted business colleague as well. 

Dennis also provides general legal consulting to his clients, including preparation of contracts, developing strategies to protect their businesses from risk, and more. The lessons learned litigating complex disputes have provided him real life education about how to avoid those litigated issues in the future. In spite of his active trial practice, as a trained mediator, Dennis appreciates that the best resolution to a business dispute, if possible, is a business solution, not litigation. 

Dennis is a founding member of the firm. As a senior member of the tort litigation group and founder and co-chair of the construction practice group, Dennis supervises a team providing comprehensive litigation and transactional services to many lines of business, including the construction industry. As a member of the firm’s Executive Committee, Dennis influences the strategic direction of the firm, ensuring each of our attorneys is working to exceed client expectations in every area of practice.


  • Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ rated
  • Selected to the Illinois Super Lawyers List: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021
  • Selected to The Best Lawyers in America© in Construction Law: 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022
  • Selected by the Leading Lawyers Network as a "Leading Lawyer" in construction law

Memberships & Involvement

  • Member: SmithAmundsen Executive Committee
  • Co-chair, Construction Law Committee: IDC
  • Member: Associated General Contractors of America; American Subcontractors' Association; Attorney's Council; Northern Illinois Building Contractors' Association; DRI Construction Law Committee; Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association; Highway Work Zone Safety; MAASTRO Reg AASHTO-AGC-ARTBA Jt. Committee
  • Former Chair, Former Immediate Past Vice Chair: USLAW Network Construction Practice Group


  • Successfully tried the largest implied warranty of habitability construction defect case ever tried to a jury in Illinois. The case was pending in Cook County, IL, traditionally considered one of the country’s top 10 litigation “Judicial Hellholes.”  As a result, very few construction defect cases go to trial in that county because “you can’t win them.” Plaintiff, representing a condominium board, sought millions of dollars in damages and in less than an hour, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Dennis’ client, awarding no damages.
  • In 2016, in Madison/St Clair County (downstate Illinois, considered a top 5 “Judicial Hellhole,”) Dennis tried back-to-back catastrophic injury cases against one of the entrenched local plaintiff firms, with favorable outcomes for his client.
  • In 2016, Dennis successfully defended one of the fastest growing credit unions in the country in a financial breach of contract/fraud case that went to arbitration hearing in the AAA Commercial Arbitration division in Memphis, TN.
  • Obtained summary judgment on behalf of the builder/developer in a case involving a massive fire in downtown Champaign, Urbana. The claims against the client included damage to several surrounding buildings and exceeded $8 million. Summary judgment was granted after only three depositions were taken – the fire marshal, the developer and the general contractor.
  • Successfully defended a contractor in the defense of a multiple fatality at the BNSF yard, when a piece of equipment contacted nearby power lines. Our client settled for $100,000 and the co-defendants for $20 million.


Presentations & Events