Jury duty is an essential civic duty that ensures the functioning of our legal system, and it's an experience that many citizens may find themselves involved in at some point in their lives. If you've been summoned for jury duty in Illinois, you may be wondering what to expect. This article will guide you through the process, from jury selection to the trial and deliberation, and finally, the verdict and its financial implications.
The jury selection process, also known as voir dire, begins with a pool of potential jurors drawn from public records like voter registrations and driver's license records. If you're part of this pool, you'll receive a summons in the mail, instructing you to report to the courthouse on a specific date.
On the day of jury selection, the judge, the plaintiff's attorney, and the defendant's attorney will question potential jurors. This process is used to ensure that the jury is made up of unbiased individuals who can make a fair decision. You might be asked about your background, beliefs, or whether you have any personal interest in the case. It is best that you are completely honest during this process. If there is something you think the attorneys or the judge should know, tell them. If you are too embarrassed to discuss it openly, you can ask to speak with the judge and attorneys in private. Your honesty and full disclosure helps guarantee both sides have a fair trial. If either attorney believes that a juror cannot be impartial, they can request that the juror be dismissed.
Once the jury is selected, the civil trial begins. Civil trials usually involve disputes between individuals or organizations, often revolving around matters like personal injury, contract disputes, or property issues. In these cases, the plaintiff seeks a legal remedy, often in the form of monetary damages. Marker & Crannell's practice focuses solely on representing injury victims - in those types of trials, the ONLY remedy available to a plaintiff is monetary compensation for their financial losses (economic damages) and what they lost in the way of health and quality of life (non-economic damages).
The trial begins with opening statements from both sides, followed by the plaintiff presenting their case. The defendant will then have a chance to present their case. Both sides can call witnesses and present evidence to support their claims. As a juror, you'll be responsible for evaluating this evidence impartially. The Plaintiff has the burden of proof, which means we must prove the Defendant was negligent, that the Plaintiff was injured, and that the harms/damages suffered by the Plaintiff were caused, at least in part, by the Defendant's negligence. In Illinois, a Plaintiff needs to prove their case by a preponderance of the evidence which means they must prove those elements of the case are more probably true than not true. Preponderance of the evidence is often described to jurors as:
"If the Plaintiff's evidence has tipped the scales by only the weight of a feather, they have satisfied their burden of proof."
"This is not a criminal case where the case must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. This is a civil case where all the Plaintiff must do is prove something is more probably true than not true. You may have doubts and still find for the Plaintiff - the question is whether the evidence makes the Plaintiff's claims more probably true than not true."
Deliberation and Verdict
After both sides have presented their cases and closing arguments have been made, the jury is given instructions by the judge and then sent to a private room to deliberate. During deliberations, jurors discuss the evidence and attempt to reach a verdict.
In Illinois, as in many states, civil trials require a unanimous verdict. Usually 12 jurors are selected for civil jury trials in Illinois; depending on the case, there may be a need for additional jurors to serve as alternates. In some cases only 6 jurors will be required for the trial, but only when both sides agree.
Payment of the Verdict
If the jury finds in favor of the plaintiff and awards damages, you might wonder who pays the verdict. In most cases, especially those involving personal injury, the defendant's insurance company will pay the awarded amount. This is because most individuals and businesses carry liability insurance, which is designed to cover the costs of legal judgments against the policyholder.
While the insurance company typically covers the verdict, there may be limitations based on the policy's coverage limits. If the awarded damages exceed the defendant's coverage, the defendant would be responsible for the remainder. The amount of coverage is not disclosed to the jury, but once a verdict is entered the parties are still able to negotiate a fair outcome based on the coverage, verdict amount, chances of a successful appeal, and whether or not the insurance company should pay the excess amount because they failed to offer a fair settlement in good faith.
Serving on a jury can be a significant commitment, but it's a vital part of our democratic system. Being informed about the process can help alleviate some of the uncertainty associated with being called for jury duty. Remember, as a juror, your role is crucial in maintaining justice and fairness in our legal system.