By: Dodie O'Keefe
As the new year arrives, practitioners and judges must pay heed to changes in the law concerning special interrogatories under section 2-1108 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-1108). Previously, the statute required special interrogatories that were in proper form to be submitted to the jury if any party so requested. The trial court’s submission or refusal to submit a special interrogatory was reviewed under the de novo standard. And, where the jury’s answer to a special interrogatory was inconsistent with the general verdict, the former controlled the latter.
In trials beginning on or after January 1, 2020, parties may still request special interrogatories, but whether to submit them will lie within the discretion of the trial court. Thus, “[s]ubmitting or refusing to submit a question of fact to the jury may be reviewed on appeal to determine whether the trial court abused its discretion.” Notably, the statute will also allow parties to explain to the jury the result of a special finding that is inconsistent with the general verdict. To that end, if a special finding is inconsistent with the general verdict, then the trial court must “direct the jury to further consider its answers and verdict.” If the jury is still unable to render a compatible verdict, then the court must order a new trial.
With that in mind, let us hope these changes bring resolution to this notoriously challenging area of law in the new year.