The Plain Truth About the Practice of Personal Injury Law

Recent Case Decisions

The following represent recent Illinois Appellate and Supreme Court decisions in the field of personal injury law:

An Illinois Supreme Court committee is taking comments on a proposal initiated by a Springfield attorney to allow jurors to question witnesses in personal injury civil trials.

There is no rule now that prohibits judges from allowing jurors to ask questions, but there also is no rule that specifically authorizes jurors to question witnesses. As a result, the practice is rare allowing juror questions. The Supreme Court has the final say on any rule proposal.

How it would work
The proposal before the Rules Committee would give judges discretion in using the procedure. It would work this way:
Out of the presence of the jury, the judge would provide each juror question to the lawyers in the case. If there is an objection to the question, the judge would rule on the objection. The question could either be read as written, modified and read, or excluded.

If a question is allowed, the judge or a Chicago personal injury lawyer will read it to the witness in the jury's presence, and the witness will answer the question. Attorneys then could ask follow-up questions.
Arguments against the proposal include concerns that it would add to the length of trials or reduce lawyers’ control over their cases and that a juror might become angry if his or her question is rejected. The procedure may not be appropriate for criminal trials, given all the constitutional guarantees of a defendant.

At conclusion of testimony, the judge asked if there were any questions. The juror would hand the written question to the Sheriff, who would give it to the judge.
After 35 years of Chicago personal injury jury trials, attorney Rick Grossman believes that the suggested practice would be a disaster if approved. Prejudicial error would occur and the trial would be unnecessarily delayed by this practice. Jurors whose questions were disallowed would feel slighted. Lawyering would no longer be significant.

Let the lawyers do their job and the chips will fall where they may.
If you have been injured as a result of the negligent conduct of another call the top Chicago injury attorneys at (312) 726-4444

The Illinois Supreme Court to decide whether their exists parental liability for injuries and death resulting from condoned under age drinking.

Suburban Chicago parents permitted underage drinking at their home which subsequently resulted in the death of several individuals in a motor vehicle accident. To date the Illinois courts have held that there exists no liability for such conduct.

At Steinberg Burtker & Grossman, Ltd., our Chicago Injury Attorneys, we feel very strongly that the hosts of excessive drinking should be responsible for the personal injury caused by such conduct.

If you have been injured as a result of the negligent conduct of another call the top Chicago injury lawyers at (312) 726-4444

Are the photographs of damaged vehicles admissable in evidence during the trial of a personal injury case?

One of the favorite tools of personal injury attorneys is to seek to admit the photographs of their client's motor vehicles to show excessive or minimal damage. As a Chicago injury attorney judges routinely admitted into evidence photographs of the motor vehicles damages in a personal injury accident. Jurors could then make up their own minds whether the claimed physical injury was consistent with the visible damage to the car.

Over the past few years all has changed as the appellate court districts of the State of Illinois have made inconsistent rulings on the subject. Some have held that they are admissible and others have taken the approach that expert testimony must first be given to state that the claimed injuries were consistent with vehicles damage.

As Chicago injury lawyers, Steinberg Burtker & Grossman, Ltd., we are of the opinion that the photographs should be admissible without expert testimony since jurors possess common knowledge of the relationship between the damage suffered by the vehicle and the injuries claimed by the plaintiff. Rick Grossman is hopeful that the Illinois Supreme Court will decide this issue once and for all to level the playing field for all personal injury attorneys.

If you have been injured as a result of the negligent conduct of another call the top Chicago injury lawyers at (312) 726-4444

Medical Malpractice Jury Instructions Challenge

In the context of a medical malpractice lawsuit, the supreme court considered three challenges concerning the professional negligence standard of care instruction, IPI Civil (2006) No. 105.01. The plaintiffs sued a hospital based on claims of institutional negligence and vicarious liability for the alleged failure of emergency room physicians to diagnose appendicitis. Following a trial where only expert testimony was presented to establish the physicians’ standard of care, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiffs.

First, the supreme court held that the instruction erroneously places evidence of bylaws, rules, regulations, policies and procedures on the same footing with expert testimony. The court emphasized that professional negligence actions usually require expert testimony to prove negligence; an institutional negligence case may not. This distinction, however, is lost in No. 105.01. In professional negligence cases, the instruction should limit a jury’s consideration of evidence on the standard of care to expert testimony. By suggesting that the jury consider other evidentiary sources, the 2006 IPI departs in a “significant and unwarranted” manner from the law governing professional negligence cases.

Second, the court found the instruction incomplete in its definition of professional negligence. It lacks any reference to the professional’s knowledge, skill and care which had appeared in the prior version of No. 105.01.

Third, the court disagreed with the hospital’s challenge to the closing reference in No. 105.01 to “you” — the jury — deciding how a “reasonably careful” professional would act. This aspect of the instruction passed muster. The court noted the preceding language stating that jurors “must not attempt to determine this question from any personal knowledge” and the absence of language listing personal knowledge as an evidentiary source.
Despite the two problems with the instruction, the court found no serious prejudice resulted, so reversal was not required. The parties had introduced evidence of the standard of care for both the professional and institutional negligence theories through expert testimony. In the supreme court’s view, the hospital rules and regulations introduced in evidence had “merely buttressed” the expert testimony.

Specially concurring, Justice Karmeier wrote that the court should not have addressed the hospital’s primary argument regarding the type of evidence a jury may consider. He reasoned that the plaintiffs had presented only permissible expert testimony to support the professional negligence claim; accordingly, an instruction referring to other types of evidence could not have prejudiced the hospital.

If you have been injured as a result of the negligent conduct of another call the top Chicago injury attorneys at (312) 726-4444

Atrazine Weed Killer Class Action settlement

The Swiss maker of the popular agricultural weed-killer atrazine says it settled a local class-action lawsuit for $105 million.
The settlement ends nearly eight years of litigation in Madison County and federal court about whether atrazine polluted municipal water systems. In the settlement, the manufacturer, Syngenta, acknowledges no liability and continues to stand by the safety of atrazine.
Atrazine is an economical herbicide used on most corn and grain sorghum grown in the United States. About 80 million pounds of it is used annually in the United States to control broadleaf and other weeds.
The company and the Chicago plaintiff attorneys, who represent a number of community water systems, including the city of Greenville, said in a joint statement that they're settling "in order to end the business uncertainty and expense of protracted legal proceedings."
Syngenta also issued its own statement: "The value of atrazine is clear. It benefits American farmers by up to $3.3 billion and supports up to 85,000 American jobs related to farming annually. Atrazine helps protect the environment and critical wildlife habitat by reducing soil erosion by up to 85 million tons each year. There is no substitute for atrazine, which is used in more than 60 countries and meets the most stringent safety requirements in the world."

 Any U.S. water system that detected atrazine in its raw or finished water in the past -- or up to 90 days after the settlement is given preliminary approval is eligible to receive settlement money.

Plaintiff attorneys claimed that atrazine runoff from farming operations pollutes water supplies. They also claimed atrazine breaks down into cancer-causing substances. Defense attorneys claimed they followed federal regulations governing atrazine for decades. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's stance was that atrazine was safe in drinking water at 3 parts per billion or less -- about a spoonful in an Olympic-size swimming pool.

Previously that studies are suggesting atrazine, even in doses lower than the EPA-approved level, causes cancers, low birth weights and deformities of sex organs. Syngenta countered that those studies are unreliable and pale in comparison to the studies the EPA has relied on to regulate atrazine.

The joint statement from the company and the plaintiff says: "After almost eight years of litigation, the plaintiffs were unable to come up with any new scientific studies relating to the safety of atrazine. No one ever has or ever could be exposed to enough atrazine in water to affect their health." It also states the plaintiffs are "not aware of any new scientific studies relating to the safety of atrazine."

The lawsuit did not seek compensation for anyone getting sick from atrazine. Rather, it sought compensation for water districts for installing and operating water-filtering equipment.
Tillery said the settlement will provide money for more than 1,880 community water systems across at least 45 states.
"The scope of this historic settlement is enormous and its protection of the health of millions of Americans across the country is a huge benefit to the public, the environment, and the taxpayers," Tillery said.

Defense attorneys also argued it would be improper for a local judge or jury to be deciding what products farmers can use.
They argued that losing atrazine would be a big blow to farmers, because the product is inexpensive and effective on a wide variety of weeds in crops, including corn. The value of Illinois' corn harvest is about $4 billion, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

"This settlement is good for Syngenta and the farmers who depend on atrazine, as well as Syngenta's retailers, distributors, partners, and others who have been inconvenienced by this ongoing and burdensome litigation for almost eight years," Syngenta said in its statement.

As part of the settlement, Syngenta's atrazine distributors are released from liability.

The company said the settlement will be charged to its income statement in 2012. The effect on earnings will be about 50 cents per share, according to the company.

In a news release, the attorneys said such lawsuits require a vast amount of work by the plaintiff firms. He said plaintiff firms have to "consult with experts on the scientific facts and issues involved, highly specialized medical and research issues, federal and state regulations involving the use of chemicals, and, in this case, technical data about treatment and filtering of public drinking water."

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