When deciding a trial case, a jury has a duty to be consistent in its verdict, i.e., it can’t say one thing, but then enter a contrary verdict. If a jury contradicts itself, generally one party has cause to overturn or vacate that verdict. This is what happened in the Illinois personal injury lawsuit of Gerald English v. Anthony Daniel McLaughlin, 10 L 677 (DuPage County). A judge ruled to vacate the verdict in favor of the defendant after the jury entered inconsistent statements.
The facts of English v. McLaughlin involved a 2007 Glendale Heights bicycle accident. The plaintiff, Gerald English, was biking southbound on Glen Ellyn Road and crossing Armitage Avenue. At the Illinois personal injury trial, English testified that he entered the intersection on a green light and that the light turned yellow as he was biking through. English estimated that he was biking around 17 mph at the time and was therefore unable to stop when the defendant, Anthony McLaughlin, turned left in front of him.
English’s bike ended up striking the rear-end of McLaughlin’s car and resulted in multiple bone fractures. English fractured his right knee, left shoulder, and right finger. And while none of his fractures required surgery, his injuries did prevent English from performing his normal engineering duties for about two months following the Illinois bicycle accident.
English filed a personal injury lawsuit against McLaughlin, which accused him of negligent driving and causing English’s injuries. Again, the complaint alleged that McLaughlin had caused the intersection accident by failing to yield the right of way and obey the traffic signals. However, McLaughlin’s version of the events yielded a different perspective.
At the time of the bicycle accident, the 19 year-old McLaughlin was driving northbound on Glen Ellyn Road and making a left onto Armitage Avenue. McLaughlin testified that prior to the bicycle accident he had been stopped at the intersection for about ten to fifteen seconds and had not started his turn until one or two seconds after the light had already turned yellow. McLaughlin claimed that his view of English was obstructed by traffic and that he had not seen English prior to beginning his left turn.
Furthermore, McLaughin produced an accident reconstruction expert to back up his version of the events. The defendant’s expert testified that English’s version of the events was impossible based on his calculations of the time/distance analysis. The expert concluded that English must have entered the intersection on a red light and had not reduced his speed as he approached the intersection. In this way the defense chose not only to show that the defendant was not negligent, but to make a case that the plaintiff was negligent.
In line with this strategy, both parties agreed on a special interrogatory that would be submitted to the jury at the trial’s conclusion. This special interrogatory was meant to help clarify the jury’s position and aid it in reaching a verdict. It asked whether or not the plaintiff had acted in a manner that was contributorily negligent at the time of the occurrence. The jury answered “no” to this special interrogatory, indicating that it did not find the plaintiff to have been negligent at the time of the bicycle accident.
However, despite this conclusion, the jury still entered a verdict in favor of the defendant. Consequently, the presiding judge vacated the verdict because it was inconsistent with the jury’s answer to the special interrogatory. The judge concluded that if the jury did not feel the plaintiff was negligent at the time of the intersection accident, then it should have in turn entered a judgment against the defense.
The vacated verdict not only rescinded the not guilty verdict, but also any settlement agreements both parties’ attorneys made regarding the verdict. Prior to hearing the jury verdict, both parties had entered into a high-low agreement of $50,000 and $100,000. This means that even in the event of a not guilty verdict the plaintiff was guaranteed a minimum of $50,000 from the defendant. However, after the verdict was vacated, the high-low agreement could no longer be enforced.
At this point the plaintiff’s attorney has filed a motion for a new personal injury trial. It remains to be seen whether the court will grant this motion, and if so, what sort of trial awaits. It also remains to be seen whether the not guilty verdict will impact the defendant’s strategy and position. Prior to the initial personal injury trial the defendant had made an offer to settle for $50,000. If there is a new trial, it remains to be seen whether he will make a similar offer.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois bicycle accident lawsuits for individuals and families for more than 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and surrounding areas, including Clarendon Hills, Mount Prospect, Prospect Heights, Oak Lawn, Chicago’s Lawndale neighborhood, and Des Plaines.
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