Blawgletter reported last month on a case in which the trial judge refused to ask potential jurors about their views on tort reform. It’s happened again — and with the same result.
In Chlopek v. Federal Ins. Co., No. 06-2927 (7th Cir. Aug. 28, 2007), the Chlopeks tried their amputation-of-a-big-toe claim to a jury. Their counsel requested the judge to ask venirepersons to describe their "perceptions . . . regarding the propriety" of civil damages cases and tort reform. His Honor demurred, but he did inquire if any potential juror had an opinion about "the commencement of lawsuits, the administration of justice generally, or jury awards which would in any way affect your respective abilities to serve as a fair and impartial juror in this case." The Chlopeks lost; the Seventh Circuit affirmed.
We have two observations. First, the case highlights the limitations that usually exist on voir dire in federal court. Second, plaintiffs lawyers need to do a better job of fashioning the questions that they want the trial judge to ask. Most federal judges probably recoil when they hear tort reform. But most probably will also pose questions that may reveal bias but that sound less inflammatory.