The Illinois Supreme Court is being asked to address an important question concerning an individual’s right to have a jury decide damages at trial. Specifically, the the Court will address whether it was proper for a lower court to reduce a jury’s award for punitive damages from $2 million to $81,600. Top Chicago personal injury lawyers are paying close attention to this case, as it goes to the heart of the “right to trial by jury.”
The case is Slovinski v. Elliott, No. 107146, a defamation case in which Slovinski, a former CFO of a telecom company, accused Elliot, the former CEO, of telling investors that Slovinski was not doing his job. At trial, a Cook County jury awarded the plaintiff $81,600 in compensatory damages (i.e. money to “compensate” the victim) and $2 million in punitive damages (i.e. money to “punish” the defendants). The trial judge reduced the punitive damages to $1 million, and the 5th District appellate court further reduced the punitives to $81,600 to equal the compensatory damages. The plaintiff is appealing the case to the Illinois Supreme Court.
The Illinois Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA) wrote a “friend of the court” brief in support of the plaintiff’s position, in which it argues that the lower courts improperly relied on Brown v. Farkas, 158 Ill. App. 3d 772 (1st Dist. 1986), a defamation case involving a criminal offense, discussing the court’s power of “remittitur” (i.e. to reduce a jury’s damages award), in which the court imposed a one-to-one ratio of compensatory to punitive damages. The plaintiff argued that before a lower court reduces a jury verdict, it must find “that the verdict was a result of passion, prejudice, bias or corruption.” See Deal v. Byford, 127 Ill. 2d 192, 204 (Ill. 1989). According to the plaintiff and ITLA, neither case explicitly established a one-to-one ratio for punitive and compensatory damages. Alternatively, the plaintiff asked the Supreme Court to overrule Brown.
According to ITLA, “If allowed to stand, the holding . . . threatens to reverse the value we place on permitting a jury of ordinary citizens to collectively determine that which will fairly compensate, that which will fairly punish and that which will adequately deter future harm.” Personal injury lawyers in Chicago hope the Illinois Supreme court reverses the appellate court to preserve the system where a jury’s award is only overturned where it is a product of passion or prejudice.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago personal injury attorney, call Passen & Powell at (312) 527-4500.