DOES (JURY) SIZE MATTER?
By: Erin S. Davis
Effective June 1, 2015, new legislation changes the law in Illinois to decree that civil lawsuits in Illinois will be heard by a jury of 6. This represents a change from the previous law, requiring a jury of 12 for cases valued at over $50,000. (It also increases juror pay to $50 per day of jury service.) This applies to lawsuits filed on or after June 1, 2015, not lawsuits pending prior to that date.
This change was quietly propelled at near-record pace through the Illinois State Legislature in November and December 2014 and signed into law by lame-duck Governor Quinn with little to no public debate, significant study, or contemplation. The Plaintiff’s bar instigated the legislation under the guise of a budgetary savings for cash-strapped jurisdictions who are required to compensate jurors.
So why did the Plaintiff’s bar push for this change? How does it benefit them? And, most importantly, what does this mean for us, those representing physicians, hospitals, and other defendants who are dragged into these lawsuits?
Consider the differences in any room with 6 people versus 12 people discussing a hot button issue. There will always be “sleeper” jurors – those who do not take the responsibility seriously and who will acquiesce to the majority without resistance – who are usually identified by their snoring in the back row during evidence. It means that a single “alpha juror” – those with an air of authority who usually pay a great deal of attention – has fewer minds to sway, fewer brows to beat, and an easier time persuading the remaining jurors to bend to their will.
Reducing a jury size from 12 to 6 means 6 fewer voices, less debate, and a more narrow pool of perspectives. It means less diversity of thought, human experience, and education. In notoriously Plaintiff-leaning Cook County, this change probably reduces the chances that Plaintiff will end up with a well-educated accountant or Ph.D. on their jury. In a smaller group of individuals, can we rely on a single defense-inclined juror to stand up without an ally?
Arguably, this cuts both ways. Where there is a sole Plaintiff-leaning juror, he or she will be as easily subjugated to the will of the group as a sole Defendant-leaning juror. As civil trials are often an exercise in the prediction of outcome, financial exposure, and how the evidence will be perceived and weighed by a jury, is a smaller jury more or less predictable?
There will now be only 6 individuals reflecting on the evidence heard in the courtroom, attempting to remember who said what. Where memory is concerned, perhaps 12 minds are able to reconstruct more accurately and completely than 6.
A criminal trial in Illinois will still be heard by a 12 person jury. Why are civil cases not entitled to the same examination? The level of personal interest we see physicians take every day in their cases, including the potential effects on their license, practices, malpractice insurance, and personal finances, are certainly equally significant to them as the concerns of a criminal defendant.
When all is said and done, though, the issue remains the same: is diversity of thought and robust consideration of the issues as thorough with 6 jurors versus 12? And should this not be the overriding goal of our system of justice?
Only time and experience will answer many of these questions, but of one thing we can be sure: the Plaintiff’s bar would not have snuck this one in at the buzzer if they didn’t feel it would significantly benefit them.