Illinois Supreme Court Discusses Issue Of Juror Bias In Upholding Defense Verdict In Medical Malpractice Case

The Supreme Court of the State of Illinois (“Illinois Supreme Court”) discussed the issue of juror bias in its decision filed on November 18, 2021 that upheld a defense verdict in an Illinois medical malpractice case.

The Underlying Facts

Plaintiff Thomas Ittersagen (Ittersagen) brought a medical malpractice action against defendants Advocate Health and Hospitals Corporation, doing business as Advocate Medical Group (Advocate Medical), and one of its doctors, Anita Thakadiyil, M.D.  Plaintiff alleged that defendants negligently failed to diagnose him with sepsis and treat him appropriately. The matter proceeded to a trial, and a jury was impaneled and sworn.

More than halfway through the trial, the Cook County circuit court received a note from a juror, who reported that he had a business relationship with what he called “the Advocate Health Care System Endowment.” The juror said he believed the endowment was affiliated with but separate from Advocate Medical. He explained that his connection to Advocate Medical was so attenuated that he forgot to mention it during jury selection. The juror insisted that the outcome of the trial would not affect him financially and that he could remain fair and impartial.

Plaintiff asked the trial court to remove the juror for actual bias or implied bias and to replace him with an alternate juror. The trial court denied the request, and the jury ultimately returned a verdict for defendants. The appellate court rejected plaintiff’s claim of juror bias and affirmed the judgment for defendants. The plaintiff appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Illinois Supreme Court Decision

Plaintiff argued that the juror was not qualified to serve on the jury because his fiduciary duty to the endowment created a presumption of bias against defendants.

Implied Bias

The bias of a prospective juror may be actual or implied; that is, it may be bias in fact or bias conclusively presumed as a matter of law. Implied bias is a bias attributable in law to the prospective juror regardless of actual partiality. Bias is implied in those extreme situations where the relationship between a prospective juror and some aspect of the litigation is such that it is highly unlikely that the average person could remain impartial in his deliberations under the circumstances.

The United States Supreme Court has stated with regard to juror bias: “Bias or prejudice is such an elusive condition of the mind that it is most difficult, if not impossible, to always recognize its existence, and it might exist in the mind of one (on account of his relations with one of the parties) who was quite positive that he had no bias, and said that he was perfectly able to decide the question wholly uninfluenced by anything but the evidence. The law therefore most wisely says that with regard to some of the relations which may exist between the juror and one of the parties, bias is implied, and evidence of its actual existence need not be given.”

The Illinois Supreme Court has stated: “At common law a juror was presumed to be biased and therefore disqualified if he was related to a party to the litigation through blood or sanguinity or through certain indirect personal relationships. *** [T]here are certain relationships which may exist between a juror and a party to the litigation which are so direct that a juror possessing the same will be presumed to be biased and therefore disqualified. In such a case it is not necessary to establish that bias or partiality actually exists.”

“We recognized in Cole that rooting out juror bias necessarily involves assessing the juror’s credibility, which is especially significant when, as here, the juror is the sole source of evidence. Regardless of whether the objecting party alleges actual bias or implied bias, the juror’s relationship to the parties is a question of fact to be answered from the evidence, and the court’s finding regarding the relationship should not be reversed unless it is against the manifest weight of the evidence. In other words, presuming bias based on a juror’s status is a question of law, but determining the juror’s status remains a question of fact.”

The Illinois Supreme Court stated in the case it was deciding: “The trial court found that plaintiff failed to demonstrate that juror Glascott and Advocate Medical had a direct relationship that indicated implied bias as a matter of law. Juror Glascott reported a fiduciary duty to the endowment, but the trial court heard no evidence of a direct link between the juror and Advocate Medical from which bias could be presumed. Most significantly, juror Glascott was adamant that the endowment and defendants were separate, he did not owe Advocate Medical a fiduciary duty, and the trial’s outcome would not affect him financially. We agree with the appellate court that “the evidence was insufficient to demonstrate any express fiduciary relationship between juror Glascott and defendant Advocate Medical.””

The Illinois Supreme Court held: “Plaintiff had the burden to show bias but did not refute the juror’s testimony with evidence of a relationship with Advocate Medical. The trial court’s finding of an attenuated relationship between the juror and Advocate Medical was not against the manifest weight of the evidence, and the court’s decision not to excuse the juror for implied bias was not erroneous as a matter of law … juror Glascott did not recognize his connection to Advocate Medical until part way through the trial, which indicated an attenuated relationship … juror Glascott stated he was not compensated by Advocate Medical. He believed his employment income was derived from his work for the endowment, and he denied owing Advocate Medical a fiduciary duty.”

Source Ittersagen v. Advocate Health and Hospitals Corporation, 2021 IL 126507.

If you or a loved one may have been injured (or worse) as a result of hospital negligence in Illinois or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find an Illinois medical malpractice lawyer, or a medical malpractice lawyer in your state, who may investigate your hospital malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a hospital malpractice case, if appropriate.

Click here to visit our website or call us toll-free in the United States at 800-295-3959 to find medical malpractice attorneys in your state who may assist you.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, February 12th, 2022 at 5:27 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


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