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Rains v. Schutte

NOVEMBER 10, 1964.

GERALD RAINS, APPELLANT,

v.

CLARENCE SCHUTTE, APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Crawford County; the Hon. RANDALL S. QUINDRY, Judge, presiding. Judgment reversed and remanded.

WRIGHT, JUSTICE.

Rehearing denied November 23, 1964.

This is an action for personal injuries by the plaintiff, Gerald Rains, based upon alleged negligence of the defendant, Clarence Schutte. The cause was tried in the Circuit Court of Crawford County before a jury and resulted in a verdict in favor of the defendant. Plaintiff's post-trial motion was denied and judgment entered on the verdict in favor of defendant.

It is the theory of the plaintiff that he was denied proper challenges for cause and a proper voir dire examination of prospective jurors. Plaintiff contends that as a result of the failure of the trial court to allow challenges for cause or a proper voir dire examination, he was deprived of a fair trial and that the judgment of the trial court should be reversed and the cause remanded for a new trial.

The defendant was insured for the alleged negligence in issue with the Country Mutual Insurance Company. Prior to the trial of the cause, counsel for the plaintiff requested counsel for the defendant to disclose the names, if any, of the prospective jurors on the jury venire who were policyholders in the Country Mutual Insurance Company. Pursuant to this request, counsel for the defendant disclosed that seventeen members of the jury venire were insured with the Country Mutual Insurance Company.

Plaintiff then filed a motion concerning these jurors wherein he moved the court for the following relief: "Plaintiff therefore moves that all Country Mutual insureds be dismissed for cause without any interrogation by the Court or counsel before any jurors are selected or sworn so that there will be no knowledge to any jurors of the reasons for the dismissal and so that it will not be necessary that any inquiry be made or unusual circumstances presented so as to cause speculation or conjecture among the jurors as to the reason for the dismissal of the Country Mutual insureds." In the alternative, plaintiff moved as follows: "If the Court should determine to deny Plaintiff's motion to dismiss Country Mutual insureds as jurors interested in the outcome of the litigation, that Plaintiff be granted leave to inquire of the jurors concerning their relationship with Country Mutual Insurance Company and the effect such relationship will have upon any verdict they should determine to return."

The above motion contains substantially the following allegations: That the defendant in this case is insured by Country Mutual Insurance Company, a company affiliated with the Farm Bureau throughout the State of Illinois and a company writing a large number of policies in Crawford County and throughout the downstate area of Illinois; that seventeen members of the jury venire are insured by Country Mutual Insurance Company; that the Farmers' Comprehensive liability policy issued by Country Mutual Insurance Company provides:

"This policy is on the mutual or participating plan and the named insured, during the continuance of this policy shall be entitled to participate in such savings and earnings of the company as the Board of Directors may determine to distribute to like policyholders."

It is further alleged in the motion that pursuant to the terms of the policy issued by Country Mutual Insurance Company, it would be to the interest of all Country Mutual insureds to return a small verdict in injury claims presented against Country Mutual insureds so that their participation in savings and earnings would thereby be increased; that it is against public policy and fundamental concepts of jury trials to submit to a jury issues in which they are financially interested; that the plaintiff does not desire to introduce into the cause the issue of insurance nor does he desire to discuss the issue of insurance with the jurors on voir dire examination, but believes that unless the Country Mutual insureds are either excused from the jury without examination or, in the alternative, that he be authorized to inquire of the jury what effect their ownership of insurance with Country Mutual Insurance Company would have upon their deliberation, that he would be irreparably prejudiced in the selection of a jury; that the plaintiff has only five peremptory challenges and by the use of all of his peremptory challenges could not insure that all of the Country Mutual insureds financially interested in the outcome of the litigation would be removed from the panel.

Plaintiff's motion was denied by the trial court and the selection of the jury and trial continued. During the selection of the jury, twenty-seven jurors were examined and of these, nine were insured with the Country Mutual Insurance Company. Before the jury was selected, plaintiff had exhausted all of his challenges and five Country Mutual insureds were on the jury that returned the verdict against the plaintiff. The foreman of the jury was insured with Country Mutual.

The principle question presented on this appeal has been considered by the Supreme Court of Illinois in Smithers v. Henriquez, 368 Ill. 588, 15 N.E.2d 499; Edwards v. Hill-Thomas Lime & Cement Co., 378 Ill. 180, 37 N.E.2d 801; Kavanaugh v. Parret, 379 Ill. 273, 40 N.E.2d 500; Moore v. Edmonds, 384 Ill. 535, 52 N.E.2d 216 and Wheeler v. Rudek, 397 Ill. 438, 74 N.E.2d 601.

The rule of law promulgated in the foregoing decisions of our Supreme Court is well stated in Wheeler v. Rudek, supra, as follows:

"A principle of law that runs through all the cases is that, in an action of this kind where defendant carries public liability insurance, the plaintiff has the right, within certain limitations, to interrogate prospective jurors on their voir dire as to their interest and relationship to insurance companies that carry such insurance."

In Smithers v. Henriquez, supra, counsel for the plaintiff was permitted, over defendant's objection, to ask: "Are you, Mr. Long, or any of you gentlemen, interested financially, either as stockholders or otherwise, in the American Employers Insurance Company?" The Supreme Court in affirming the trial court pointed out that in order for defendant to obtain a reversal on the ground that the questions asked prospective jurors upon their voir dire examination were prejudicial, the examination ...


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