Appellate Court Decision on Special Medical Malpractice Jury Interrogatory

I came across a Health Law Week article last night about an Illinois appellate court ruling in which the court found the trial court committed reversible error when it refused to submit to the jury a special interrogatory sought by the defendant doctor’s medical malpractice lawyer to test the jury’s position on the foreseeability of the patient’s injury.

The case was a wrongful death medical malpractice claim against a doctor and a hospital. The jury found both were negligent in failing to treat and care properly for the decedent who committed suicide while a patient at the hospital and awarded Plaintiffs $1,212,000.

On appeal the defendant doctor argued that the trial court erred in its refusal to submit the following special interrogatory to the jury: “Prior to the death of the Decedent, was it reasonably foreseeable that she would commit suicide or act in a self-destructive manner on or before December 6, 1997? Yes ___ No ___.”

The Illinois appellate court reversed, finding that the malpractice defendants were prejudiced because a negative answer to their interrogatory would have been inconsistent with the general verdict against them.

It is hard to comment on whether this is an appropriate ruling in this case without seeing what the jury instructions were. But I would think that an Illinois jury would have received some sort of foreseeability instruction. It would seem unfair to require a special interrogatory as a matter of law on the verdict sheet. Using this logic, every element of plaintiff’s malpractice case should have to be spelled out on the verdict sheet. I would think this is best left to the sound discretion of the trial judge.

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