In a ruling that signals a win for the defense side of civil actions, the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously held on September 22, 2016 inKakos v. Butler that six-person juries infringe on the right to trial by jury. The case stemmed from a public act passed by the legislature in 2015 that limited the size of a civil jury to just six people. But the court found that there was “ample evidence” that the drafters of the current Illinois Constitution — which includes the right of a trial by jury — believed they were specifically preserving the right to a 12-person jury. The court relied upon recent studies that decreasing the number of jurors corresponds to decreasing diversity of the jury and may impede the deliberative process. In a practical sense, decreasing the number of jurors could have made it easier for a plaintiffs’ personal injury attorney to build a favorable consensus on large damages cases.
The court’s other ruling serves as a blow to the defense of medical malpractice actions, however. In Moon v. Rhode, also decided on September 22, 2016, the court held that the “discovery rule” exception to the statute of limitations is applicable to wrongful death and survival actions in medical malpractice actions. The Supreme Court’s opinion resolves the split among lower Illinois courts and serves to extend the statute of limitations in cases where injury causation is not immediately clear. Time for filing will be extended if plaintiffs can prove up, with due diligence, that the wrongful conduct was not discovered until after the expiration of the statute of limitations.
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