The Appellate Court of Illinois First District Second Division (“Illinois Appellate Court”) held in its opinion filed on November 19, 2019 that the Illinois medical malpractice plaintiffs were not entitled to a mistrial after the defendant doctor and his defense counsel treated a juror who become ill in the juror room before deliberations began.
The Underlying Facts
During the plaintiffs’ closing argument, a juror became ill. The judge announced “we will need a break,” and instructed the ill juror to “go to the jury room.” The ill juror went to the jury room, followed by two other jurors, one of whom is a registered nurse. At some point, someone called from the jury room that the ill juror was not breathing. Defense counsel, who is also a nurse, stated in an affidavit that she “immediately proceeded to the jury to provide emergency assistance as necessary.” The defendant surgeon followed behind her.
According to the defense counsel, she entered the jury room and observed that “the juror was lying on the floor, apparently unresponsive and pale in color. As I knelt to feel for a pulse, the juror awoke and was speaking and seemed to be stable. At that point, I believe the deputy instructed me to return to counsel table, which I did immediately. As I exited the jury room, I asked if there was a nurse present, and a female sitting on the benches in the back of the [courtroom] responded to assist the juror until paramedics arrived. After being examined by the paramedics, the juror declined further treatment.” The ill juror requested to be discharged and was replaced by an alternate juror. Closing arguments resumed and, after being instructed on the law, the jurors retired to the jury room.
The next morning, the plaintiffs’ counsel presented an emergency motion for mistrial. The judge denied the motion, finding that the disruption during closing arguments was not prejudicial. The judge noted that “if anything happened, it was quick and human . . . And then [the jury] had a full night to cool off.” The jurors were not questioned regarding what impact, if any, these events had on their ability to fairly decide the case. The jury returned a defense verdict, the trial court subsequently denied the plaintiffs’ post-trial motion, and the plaintiffs timely appealed.
Illinois Appellate Court Opinion
The Illinois Appellate Court stated: “we find that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiffs’ motion for mistrial. A mistrial should be granted when there is an occurrence of such character and magnitude as to deprive a party of a fair trial and the moving party demonstrates actual prejudice as a result … There is only one case in which our supreme court has considered whether a new trial is necessary when a physician defendant renders assistance to a juror during a medical malpractice trial.”
In the present case, “Plaintiffs’ own conduct fairly supports the inference that nothing “chaotic” or “extraordinary” occurred when the juror became ill. No objections to continuing with the proceedings were made and the attorneys for both sides agreed that the ill juror could stay or leave. Plaintiffs’ counsel proceeded with closing arguments as if nothing had happened. He did not request that the court allow him to make a record of the “chaotic” events nor did he request that the court conduct a limited voir dire or admonish the jury prior to dismissing them or at any other time. The trial judge even conferred with the attorneys regarding whether they preferred to let the jurors deliberate or wanted them to return the next morning. Plaintiffs’ counsel requested that the jurors return in the morning for deliberations, to which the trial judge agreed. The attorneys for the parties also agreed that they would not return to court in the morning. It was not until the next morning that counsel requested a mistrial after he was “directed by the co-guardians to present [the] motion.” Moreover, plaintiffs’ failed to point to anything in the record that would support a finding that the events were extraordinary or that the verdict was the result of actual prejudice … the [trial] court observed that even if defendant was in the jury room, “[h]e didn’t do anything. And then the remaining jurors who were out there didn’t see him. So even if he goes in, he did not administer any medical care. I don’t think he said anything; and, therefore, whoever is in the jury room saw that and the other remaining jurors in the jury box and courtroom didn’t even see him not doing anything.””
The Illinois Appellate Court concluded: “The disruption in the matter before us occurred during plaintiffs’ closing argument. The jurors had an opportunity to evaluate the evidence and independently weigh the credibility of the witnesses and the parties by that point in the trial. Plaintiffs provided an affidavit from one juror recounting the events; however, the juror does not indicate that the situation influenced the verdict in any way. Because there is nothing in the record to demonstrate that the verdict was the result of actual prejudice resulting in the denial of a fair trial, we find that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiffs’ motion for mistrial and post-trial motion.”
Source Tirado v. Slavin, 2019 IL App (1st) 181705-U.
If you or a loved one may have suffered harm as a result of medical malpractice in Illinois or in another U.S. state, you should promptly consult with an Illinois medical malpractice lawyer, or a medical malpractice lawyer in your state, who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
Visit our website or telephone us on our toll-free line in the United States (800-295-3959) to be connected with local medical malpractice attorneys who may assist you with your medical malpractice claim.
Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.