Plain Error “Exceedingly Rare” In Civil Appeals

In this trip and fall case, a customer, Matthews, sustained injuries when he tripped over a piece of metal that was jutting out of a fuel pump island at a gas station. The First District Illinois Appellate Court ruled on a few appellate issues. The two most significant have to do with the “plain error doctrine” and the requirement that each issue in an appeal must have its own statement of the standard of review.

After he was zeroed at trial, Matthews appealed. One of his arguments on appeal relied on the “plain error doctrine.” Matthews claimed that the trial judge made faulty and misleading statements to the jury. However, his attorney did not object when the statements were made. So on appeal, Matthews argued that the court’s statements were grounds for reversal because they constituted “plain error.”

The First District Appellate Court disagreed. The court stated that the use of the “plain error doctrine” in civil cases was “exceedingly rare.” “This doctrine is applied in civil cases only where the act complained of was a prejudicial error so egregious that it deprived the complaining party of a fair trial and substantially impaired the integrity of the judicial process itself.”

The appellate court also reiterated the rule that each of Matthews’s claims required a statement of the standard of review. “A standard of review applies to an individual issue, not to an entire appeal.” The court tweaked the parties a bit because neither discussed the standard of review for Matthews’s first argument, which concerned a claim that the verdict was inconsistent with the jury’s answer to a special interrogatory. (De novo review.)

Get the whole case, Matthews v. Avalon Petroleum Co., No. 1-05-2606 (6/29/07), by clicking here.