Madison - St. Clair Record

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Defense bar opposes legislation that would effectively eliminate special interrogatories


By Ann Maher | Apr 26, 2019

SPRINGFIELD - The Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel (IDC)  says the state's civil justice system would be substantially harmed if a bill supported by the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association relating to "special interrogatories" gets passed as recently amended.

Special interrogatories are questions that either side in a case may ask jurors to test whether they understand the instructions given before they begin deliberating.

As amended on April 11, House Bill 2233 would make the decision on whether special interrogatories are given optional for the court, rather than mandatory as under the current law.

"[S]pecial interrogatories in their current form are essential under Illinois law for courts to ascertain the propriety of a jury’s verdict and indeed for the jury itself to ensure that it is coming to the correct conclusion," states the position taken by the IDC after the bill was amended.

"Testing the elements of a cause of action, and in particular negligence and causation, as well as the fundamentals of an affirmative defense, is necessary to safeguard the integrity of the jury’s

general verdict. In a great many cases, unless a jury is asked about specific controlling issues in special interrogatories, the court and public cannot have assurance of the verdict."

The IDC says that people will not receive more fair civil trials through legislation such as HB2233, which "aims to provide less reliable information about the reasons behind a jury verdict."

The bill is sponsored by Democrat Reps. Andre Thapedi of Chicago and Thaddeus Jones of South Holland. It passed the full House on the day it was amended on the floor along party lines, 74-37.

Local representatives Monica Bristow (D-Alton), Katie Stuart (D-Collinsville), Jay Hoffman (D-Belleville) and LaToya Greenwood (D-East St. Louis) voted yes. State Rep. Charlie Meier (R-Okawville) voted no.

The bill moved to the Senate, where it was assigned to the Judiciary Committee on April 24.

As frequent targets in civil litigation that often includes complex matters, insurers, medical professionals, manufacturers and other business interests also oppose the legislation, saying special interrogatories have served the civil justice system well in Illinois for nearly 150 years.

They also say that special interrogatories are important because they can break down confusing legal and factual issues, which can help the court be certain a jury understands instructions, as well as be reassuring to jurors that they reached correct conclusions.

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Illinois Association of Defense Trial Counsel

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