Ill. SC: Jury instruction not sufficient

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Jul 7, 2011


SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (Legal Newsline) - The Illinois Supreme Court, in a ruling last month, said that a version of the state's civil jury instructions does not accurately state Illinois law.

At issue is Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions, Civil, No. 105.01 (2006) and whether it correctly states Illinois law on the standard of care in professional negligence cases.

The plaintiff, Jane Studt, filed a medical malpractice action in Kane County Circuit Court against defendant Sherman Health Systems, doing business as Sherman Hospital.

Studt alleged the hospital's emergency room doctors failed to diagnose her appendicitis. In turn, Jane's husband brought a consortium claim.

Over the hospital's objection, the circuit court instructed the jury with IPI Civil (2006) No. 105.01.

The defense counsel instead tendered an instruction based on the prior version, Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions, Civil, No. 105.01 (2005).

One difference between the two instructions is that IPI Civil (2005) No. 105.01 defined standard of care in terms of a "reasonably well-qualified" professional, while IPI Civil (2006) No. 105.01 uses the terms "reasonably careful."

Defense counsel submitted a memorandum of law urging that IPI Civil (2006) No. 105.01 is an incorrect statement of Illinois law on the standard for professional negligence.

Specifically, the hospital argued:

"In exchanging 'possess and apply the knowledge and use the skill and care ordinarily used by a reasonably well qualified' professional for 'reasonably careful,' the IPI Committee has essentially invited jurors to apply their own reasonable person standard rather than the professional standard as shown by the evidence."

The hospital also argued that the language of IPI Civil (2006) No. 105.01 suggesting that professional negligence can be proven through evidence of bylaws, rules, regulations, policies, procedures, evidence of community practice and other sources is "misleading."

The jury returned a verdict against the hospital.

The appellate court affirmed the verdict, holding that IPI Civil (2006) No. 105.01 correctly states the law.

The hospital then appealed to the state's high court.

Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride authored the Court's June 16 opinion.

In it, the justices agreed that IPI Civil (2006) No. 105.01 does not accurately state Illinois law. However, it affirmed the appellate court judgment upholding the jury verdict.

IPI Civil (2006) No. 105.01, the Court wrote, is "incomplete" because it contains no reference to the professional's knowledge, skill and care, or knowledge, skill and ability.

Reversal, the Court said, is warranted only if the error resulted in "serious prejudice" to the hospital's right to a fair trial.

"Based on the expert testimony presented at trial by both parties, the arguments of counsel, the overall manner of the trial and the jury instructions as a whole, we cannot conclude that the incompleteness in the professional negligence instruction requires reversal," it wrote.

As to the hospital's argument that IPI Civil (2006) No. 105.01 erroneously instructs the jury on the use of personal knowledge, the Court rejected that argument.

"A brief examination of the instruction answers the question on the use of personal knowledge. Importantly, just before the language the hospital finds objectionable, the instruction states that jurors 'must not attempt to determine (the standard of care) from any personal knowledge.'

"Thus, IPI Civil (2006) No. 105.01 expressly instructs the jurors that they are not to decide professional negligence based on their own views of how a reasonably careful physician would act under the circumstances. Additionally, personal knowledge is not listed as an evidentiary source the jury may consider," the Court wrote.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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