Illinois Appellate Court Affirms $1.49 Million Jury Verdict and Interest After Judgment Was Entered

The signed forms juries bring back with their findings when deliberations are completed are typically referred to as verdicts. Section 2-1303 of the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure calls for computing post-judgment interest on verdicts “from the time when made or rendered to the time of entering judgment upon the same.” Based on this law, the administrator of Keith Stanphill’s estate argued that post-judgment interest on a $1,495,151 verdict against Rockford Memorial Hospital and Lori Ortberg started running on June 2, 2016 when jurors rendered their verdict.

The trial judge had tossed aside the verdict based on the answer to a special interrogatory. It wasn’t until Oct. 31, 2017 that the Illinois Appellate Court reversed the trial court and remanded with instruction to enter judgment on the verdict.

The trial judge then concluded that the administrator was entitled to $155,544 in post- judgment interest running from Oct. 31, 2017 when the case was returned to the trial court for entry of that judgment.

In affirming, the appellate court in the Second District would find that a verdict form does not become a verdict unless and until it is accepted by the court. “The fact that a jury’s finding may be referred to as a verdict does not make it a verdict in the sense that it has been received and accepted by the trial court and entered of record.”

In this case, Dr. Ortberg performed a suicide screening of Keith Stanphill and determined that he was not at imminent risk of harming himself.

Zachary Stanphill was the administrator of the estate of his father, Keith Stanphill. Zachary filed a wrongful death and survival action against Lori Ortberg, a licensed clinical social worker and employee assistance program counselor, and her employer Rockford Memorial Hospital.

The plaintiff alleged in its complaint that on Sept. 30, 2005, Keith had an initial one-hour appointment with Ortberg and that it was Ortberg’s duty at the time to evaluate and assess Keith’s mental health condition. It was further alleged that Ortberg breached her duty by performing an inadequate assessment of Keith’s mental status and, as a result, Ortberg incorrectly diagnosed Keith’s condition, failed to recognize that he was at high risk for suicide, and failed to refer him to a hospital emergency room or a psychiatrist for immediate evaluation and treatment.

Finally, it was alleged that as a consequence of Ortberg’s professional negligence, Keith did not receive the care and assistance he required, which led to his death by suicide.

After deliberating, the jury entered a general verdict, finding in favor of the plaintiff and against the defendants. Damages were awarded on the wrongful death claim in the amount of $1,495,151. However, the jury answered “No” on the special interrogatory.

After hearing argument from the parties, the circuit court concluded that it was bound by an appellate court decision and ruled that the answer to the special interrogatory was inconsistent with the general verdict in plaintiff’s favor. Consequently, the circuit court overturned the general verdict and entered judgment in favor of defendants. The plaintiff filed a post-trial motion, challenging the decision. However, the circuit court denied plaintiff’s post-trial motion.

Plaintiff appealed. On review, the appellate court held that the jury’s answer to the special interrogatory was not absolutely irreconcilable or necessarily inconsistent with the general verdict in plaintiff’s favor. However, the appellate court also held that, even if an inconsistency existed, the special interrogatory was not in proper form because it asked whether Keith’s suicide was reasonably foreseeable to Ortberg, rather than asking whether it was foreseeable to a reasonable person or reasonable licensed clinical social worker. In this way, the court said, the special interrogatory distorted the law and made the question ambiguous and misleading to the jury.

For these reasons, the appellate court held that the special interrogatory should not have been given to the jury and reversed the circuit court’s judgment. The case was remanded with instructions that judgment be entered in the plaintiff’s favor on the general verdict.

The appellate court held that the special interrogatory proffered by defendants was not in proper form and should not have been given to the jury. Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the judgment, which reversed the circuit court’s judgment entered on the special interrogatory and remanded with instructions that the judgment be entered on general verdict in plaintiff’s favor.

Thus, when the judgment was at last entered by the trial court on Oct. 31, 2017, it was then that the running of the statutory 9% interest would begin to run entitling the plaintiff administrator an additional $155,544 in post-judgment interest.

Stanphill v. Ortberg, 2020 IL App (2d) 190769 (April 28, 2020).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling wrongful death lawsuits, medical malpractice cases, physician negligence lawsuits and nursing home negligence cases for individuals, families and loved ones who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of a medical provider for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Deerfield, Wheeling, Libertyville, Lake Bluff, Lake Zurich, Prospect Heights, Rolling Meadows, Palatine, Palos Heights, Hillside, Maywood, Forest Park, Oak Park, Bridgeview, Oak Lawn, Evergreen Park, Park Forest, Harvey, Blue Island, Chicago (Pullman, Hegewisch, East Side, Englewood, Chicago Lawn, Marquette Park, West Lawn, Bucktown, Roscoe Village, North Lawndale, Avondale, Wrigleyville, West Ridge, Andersonville, Uptown, Ravenswood), Lincolnwood, Park Ridge, Des Plaines and Elgin, Ill.

Robert D. Kreisman has been an active member of the Illinois and Missouri bars since 1976.

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