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Richard v. Dauby

APRIL 24, 1970.




Appeal from the Circuit Court of White County; the Hon. RANDALL QUINDRY, Judge, presiding. Judgment affirmed. GOLDENHERSH, J.

Rehearing denied May 21, 1970.

Plaintiff appeals from the judgment of the Circuit Court of White County entered upon a jury verdict awarding plaintiff $3,000 in his action for personal injuries. As grounds for reversal plaintiff contends the trial court erred in refusing to permit a proper voir dire examination of prospective jurors, and its ruling denied him a fair trial resulting in a grossly inadequate verdict.

The record shows plaintiff ascertained by interrogatory that defendant was insured by Country Mutual Insurance Company, hereafter called Country Mutual. He filed a motion alleging that the defense of this action was being conducted by Country Mutual; Country Mutual is a branch department of the Farm Bureau; policyholders or persons interested in Country Mutual and the Farm Bureau are mostly farmers and farm owners; White County is composed largely of farmers and such persons "as would likely be policyholders in the Country Mutual or officials of the Farm Bureau, or officers, agents or employees of either;" it has been the policy of the said Country Mutual and the said Farm Bureau, for many years, to attempt to influence prospective jurors in personal injury cases, by means of various advertising, propaganda, speeches, brochures, gossip and other means, for the purpose of prejudicing the general public against litigant plaintiffs, and for the purpose of securing and obtaining verdicts favorable to the Insurance Company in personal injury cases tried by juries; it appears obvious from the remarks, innuendoes, accusations and implications of the exhibits hereto attached, that the entire purpose and design of such propaganda is to lead the public, and prospective jurors chosen from the public, to return a verdict favorable to the defendant in any personal injury case; such obvious jury tampering as has been repeatedly and openly carried on and conducted by said Country Mutual, for many years prior hereto, in the aforesaid manner, and particularly among its policyholders and members of the Farm Bureau, "should automatically disqualify any juror called for voir dire examination in the trial of this cause, who is revealed to be a policyholder in said Company or a present or past member of the Farm Bureau, or any officer, Agent, Employee, or direct relative thereof, of either."

The motion concludes "that upon the voir dire examination of the jurors in the trial of this cause, plaintiff's counsel be permitted to question the prospective jurors as to whether they are policyholders of Country Mutual Insurance Company, or whether they are officers, agents, employees, or direct relatives thereof, of either the said Country Mutual Insurance Company or the said Farm Bureau; that upon such juror giving a positive answer, that this court will automatically excuse such prospective juror. . . ."

Three exhibits are attached to the motion. Exhibit 1 is a report of a speech made by Country Mutual's public relations manager printed in a newspaper widely circulated in White County, in which he stated that Illinois juries in the last court term had thrown out approximately half of all personal injury cases as without merit; that

"Many of the cases stacked up in the court backlogs were never intended to be tried to verdict by the plaintiffs who filed them. Only those cases in which plaintiffs and their lawyers are convinced are good enough to win a jury's favor are actually pressed to trial and verdict.

"And here in Illinois juries are rejecting just about half of the so-called `prime' cases as having no merit whatsoever, and the plaintiff walks away with nothing.

"Significantly, in many of the decisions that went for the plaintiff, the awards arrived at were no greater and very often considerably less than settlements that had been offered to the plaintiff and could have been his for the taking without the expense of a court trial. And remember, under the contingency fee system in which most of these cases are tried, the lawyers for the plaintiffs take at least 25 percent, more often 33 percent, and sometimes up to 50 percent of court awards."

Exhibit 2 is a brochure entitled "Important Facts About Your Auto Insurance Rate" mailed by Country Mutual to its policyholders to announce a rate increase and stating in part:

"Last year's increase was intended to offset the soaring cost of claims resulting from accident frequency and severity. But Country Mutual (and practically all other insurance companies) did not know the amount paid on claims would go way beyond what was expected.

"Country Mutual's average payment per claim last year was nearly 20 percent higher than in 1964.

"Country Mutual wasn't alone. Auto claims losses paid by all insurance companies in Illinois hit a new high of more than $300 million in 1965.

"The average accident verdict handed down by Illinois juries was much higher than in previous years.

"The number of serious accidents continues to increase. The price of auto insurance is directly affected by the driving experiences of policyholders, jury verdicts, auto repair and medical costs — which ...

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