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Filing a Civil Lawsuit After June 1?

by Laura Schrick, Shareholder

If so, do not expect to see twelve jurors in the jury box. Public law 098-1132 takes effect on June 1. It amends the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure to reduce the number of jurors in cases with claimed damages exceeding $50,000 from twelve to six.

This law is not the first foray into a six-member jury. Federal courts have utilized juries of six to twelve in civil cases for years. (Federal courts do not seat alternate jurors in civil cases and often increase the total number of jurors to ensure at least six jurors render the verdict; Illinois permits up to two alternates). Similarly, Illinois has given litigants a choice between a jury of twelve and a jury of six in smaller civil cases for some time, and will continue do so. In fact, the majority of states no longer use twelve-member juries to decide civil lawsuit cases.

No doubt a smaller jury panel can be selected more quickly. Beyond that, research indicates that the consequences of a smaller civil lawsuit panel have not yet been determined with meaningful reliability. See Dennis J. Devine, et al., "Jury Decision Making: 45 Years of Empirical Research on Deliberating Groups," 7 Psychology, Pub. Pol. & L. 622 (2001). Concerns include that a smaller panel may be less likely to represent the diversity within the community, that it may be more easily dominated by a single juror and that it may not recall the evidence as well as a larger panel. Proponents argue that jurors are more comfortable speaking in smaller groups, that courts may permit note-taking and that jury selection methods remain unchanged.

While the consequences may not be completely predictable, the reduction in the number of Illinois civil jurors is likely constitutional. In the 1970 case of Williams v. Florida, the United States Supreme Court upheld the use of a six-member jury in a criminal trial, finding that it did not violate the defendant’s right to trial by jury. The Court concluded that there was no meaningful difference between a six-person and a twelve-person jury when it came to (1) promoting group deliberation; (2) insulating members from outside influence; and (3) providing a fair opportunity to obtain a cross-section of the community. Williams is generally extended to civil lawsuit cases.

Illinois will continue to require unanimous civil lawsuit verdicts.

Laura Schrick is a litigation attorney in the Belleville, Illinois office of Mathis, Marifian & Richter.  She focuses her practice in personal injury, medical malpractice and employment law.

Professional Services Disclaimer: Please note that the information presented here is as an educational service, and while it contains information about legal issues, it is not legal advice. No warranty is made regarding the applicability of the information presented to a particular client situation, and the information set forth is not a substitute for original legal research, analysis and drafting for a particular client situation.

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