April 8, 2012

New Rule Will Allow Jurors to Ask Questions in State Civil Suits

by Levin & Perconti

As we touched on earlier this week, some Illinois brain injury lawsuits include allegations of medical malpractice. For example, yesterday we shared the story of a wrongful death lawsuit that was filed after a woman suffered a life-ending brain injury because her oxygen tube was mistakenly moved during what was supposed to be a routine surgery. These cases, as well as those that are filed following traumatic brain injuries, are all example of civil lawsuits.

A new rule issued this week by Illinois Supreme Court might change some basic rules related to the process in many civil lawsuits in our state, including brain injury-related suits. The new rule for the first time explicitly authorizes judges to allow jurors in these suits to submit written questions on their own to witnesses. Most are probably families with the way that questioning usually works in these cases. One party will call a witness and will ask questions. Then the other party will also ask questions of the witness (usually in a more “challenging” manner known as cross examination). The original party on occasions may then be allowed to re-ask a few more questions. This may go back and forth a bit before the witness leaves and the next witness is called. Throughout this process, jurors simply sit and listen, without any active participation in the process.

That may change starting in July. That is when Supreme Court Rule 243 will take effect which allows jurors to submit written questions to the witnesses. According to a report on the new rule in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, a judge will have the authority to decide whether to allow submissions in each case. If allowed, the jurors will submit written questions after both attorneys have had the opportunity to examine a witness. The judge will then meet with counsel outside the presence of the jury to examine the questions. At that time the attorneys will have the opportunity to voice any objections to the questions and the judge will then make an ultimate determination as to whether or not the question will be submitted, rejected, or modified.

Explaining the logic behind the new rule, Illinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride reported that “Based on the comments of those who have used or seen the procedure at trials, such a rule enhances juror engagement, juror comprehension and attention to the proceedings.”

Our Chicago brain injury attorneys will be interested to see how this process affects local cases. The change may have two effects. For one thing, it will allow jurors to feel even more engaged in the process, with the power to actively seek answers to questions that were not made clear to them in the attorneys’ examinations. On the other hand, the questions that the jurors submit will provide important feedback to the attorneys about the juror’s current thinking in the middle of the trial. It is entirely foreseeable, for example, for lawyers in Illinois brain injury lawsuits, to slightly re-strategize in the midst of the trial depending on the queries from the jury booth.

See Our Related Blog Posts:

Lawsuit Filed After Inmate Suffers Brain Injury

New Technology Aims to Help Victims of Traumatic Brain Injuries