Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

Illinois medical malpractice lawyers who represent victims and their clients were pleased with the ruling last week by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Joan Diane Larsen that caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases violates the Illinois Constitution. Under the law (Public Act 94-667), plaintiffs could be awarded no more than $500,000 in non-economic damages against doctors and $1 million against hospitals. Non-economic damages are generally damages for pain and suffering, disability, and disfigurement.

The Illinois Supreme Court has twice ruled as unconstitutional caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases in Wright v. Central Du Page Hospital, 63 Ill. 2d 313, 347 N.E. 2d 736 (1976), and in wrongful death and injury cases in Best v. Taylor Machine Works, 179 Ill. 2d 367, 689 N.E. 2d 1057 (1997). In Best, the high court observed: Under our constitution, the three branches of government-legislative, executive, and judicial-are separate and one branch shall not “exercise powers properly belonging to another.” Ill. Const. 1970, art. II, sec. 1. 179 Ill. 2d at 410, 689 N.E. 2d at 1078. The Illinois Supreme Court traced judicial authority by noting: For over a century it has been a traditional and inherent power of the judicial branch of government to apply the doctrine of remittitur, in appropriate and limited circumstances, to correct excessive jury verdicts. Best, 179 Ill. 2d at 411, 689 N.E. 2d at 1079.

In concluding that 735 ILCS 5/2-1115.1 (the cap) violates the separation of powers clause of the Illinois Constitution (1970). Art. II, sec.1, the Best court held: …because the legislature cannot make such case-by-case determinations, separations of powers concerns would be violated by the “legislative attempt to mandate legal conclusions.”….we conclude that section 2-1115.1 invades the power of the judiciary to limit excessive awards of damages. The courts are constitutionally empowered, and indeed obligated, to reduce excessive verdicts where appropriate in light of the evidence adduced in a particular case. Section 2-1115.1, however reduces damages by operation of law, without regard to the specific circumstances of individual jury awards. 179 Ill. 2d at 660, 689 N.E. 2d at 1081.
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Illinois Wrongful Death Act now allows jurors to award damages for “grief, sorrow, and mental suffering.” The law in Illinois since 1867 has been that in wrongful death actions, there is “no recovery for bereavement” and “nothing can be given as solatium.” Chicago & A.R. Co. v. Shannon, 43 Ill. 338, 1867 WL 5039 (1867).

Jury instructions in wrongful death actions arising before the effective date of this amendment, May 31, 2007, have and will include Illinois Pattern Jury Instruction (Civil) IPI 31.07. This instructions states: In determining “pecuniary loss” you may not consider the following:
(1) The pain and suffering of the decedent;
(2) The grief or sorrow of the widow and next of kin, or (3) The poverty or wealth of the widow and next of kin.

Needless to say this was and is a powerful argument that defendants, their insurers and attorneys make to jurors at the trial of a wrongful death action to limit the amount of damages awarded. Sometimes the only significant loss widows and next of kin sustain is the “grief, sorrow, and mental suffering” associated with the wrongfyl death of a family member.
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Illinois hospitals were granted immunity from disclosing confidential patient records by the Illinois Supreme Court. Bagent.v. Blessing Care, d/b/a Illini Hospital, 224 Ill. 2d 154, 862 N.E. 2d 985 (Jan. 19, 2007). An Illinois woman’s common law right of privacy claim against a hospital that her confidential medical records were divulged by an employee of the hospital was unanimously rejected by the high court last week. Defendant Mary Young was a phlebotomist employed by Illini Hospital. She had received confidentiality training from her employer regarding HIPAA, 110 Stat. 1936. Plaintiff Suzanne Bagent had a blood test with results being sent to Illini Hospital showing that she was pregnant.

Shortly thereafter defendant Mary Young visited a local tavern and shared the blood test results with plaintiff’s sister. Plaintiff complained to the hospital and thereafter filed a lawsuit against the phlebotomist and Illini Hospital under a doctrine of respondeat superior. The trial court dismissed Illini Hospital finding that disclosure of plaintiff’s medical records was “not made in the course of or within the scope of Young’s employment.”
Plaintiff appealed the dismissal to the Appellate Court which reversed holding that a jury should decide whether Young was acting within the scope of employment. Young v. Blessing Care, d/b/a Illini Hospital, 363 Ill. App. 3d 916, 844 N.E. 2d 469 (2006). The Illinois Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court in Docket No. 102430.

The Illinois Supreme Court discussed the Restatement (Second) of Agency Sec. 228 which provides that: (1) Conduct of a servant is within the scope of employment if, but only if:
(a) it is the kind he is employed to perform;
(b) it occurs substantially within the authorized time and space limits;
(c) it is actuated, at least in part, by a purpose to serve the master..

The Supreme Court held that all three criteria must be met to conclude that an employee was acting within the scope of employment. Plaintiff relied upon Section 229 of the Second Restatement which elaborates the first criteria of Section 228, including the admonition to consider such factors as whether the act is outside the enterprise of the employer and whether the employer has reason to expect that such an act will be done. Clearly disclosure of confidential medical information was not outside the enterprise of a hospital and the hospital had reason to be concerned that such an act would occur, why else provide training. The Court ignored these factors in its analysis.

In its unanimous opinion the Illinois Sup. Ct. strangely stated:
“.the ultimate question is whether or not the loss resulting from the employer’s acts should justly be considered as one of the normal risks to be borne by the employer.”
I agree with this statement of the Court but disagree with the analysis they use to immunize a hospital from liability for the release of confidential medical information of its patient by an employee of the hospital.

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An Illinois internet prescription malpractice case that I tried last year now has resulted in the indictment of the very doctors sued. The doctors were charged in the civil suit with: (1) prescribing Xanax and Ultram to a patient they had never seen or examined; (2) prescribing excessive dosages and; (3) practicing medicine in the state of Illinois without a license.

As reported in last months’ post on internet prescription malpractice, the plaintiff, a 30 year old husband and father ordered Xanax and Ultram over the internet. The plaintiff had previously successfully completed a drug rehabilitation program through Hazelton, and had been clean and sober for a long time. However, looking at his e-mails one day in May 2004 he succumbed and ordered the anti-anxiety drug Xanax and the pain killer Ultram via an internet questionnaire. As he testified before a jury in U.S. District Court in Chicago, he took these drugs partially for back pain and partially for recreation.

After consuming these drugs the next thing he recalls is waking up in a hospital in suburban Chicago three weeks later. The drugs repressed his breathing causing a hypoxic event that landed him in a coma. Neither Dr. Klinman. a Pennsylvania internist, whose name was on the bottle of Xanax nor Dr. Ahlawat, a New Jersey internist, whose name was on the bottle of Ultram, had ever seen plaintiff or spoken with him. All the information they had was contained on the online questionnaire that he filled out.
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An Illinois internet prescription malpractice case that I prosecuted beginning in 2004 opened my eyes to the widespread abuse of prescription drugs the internet facilitates. An unholy alliance has developed between physicians and the internet pharmacies that push drugs via spam e-mails and pay for click advertising. This is the first of what will become a continuing focus on the practice of physicians prescribing frequently abused drugs based solely on an on line questionnaire. This article is not meant to criticize or impede a patient with a lawful prescription from having it filled over the internet.

In April 2004, a 30 yr. old plastic salesman along with his newly pregnant wife had just moved into their new home in suburban Chicago. He was an active man who played golf and basketball regularly. He loved reading Dostoevsky and Hemmingway. His sales job required 70-hour work weeks and he drove over 60,000 miles per year servicing his customers. Stress was very high and his back was bothering him, but his family life and work prospects were promising.
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An Illinois wrongful death verdict arising out of a construction accident where a scaffold collapsed was reversed by the appellate court in Chicago. The Court did rule that the defendants had waived any right to challenge the award of $14,230,000. The issue as framed by the Appellate Court:

Is a defendant who settles with the plaintiff prior to trial still a “defendant sued by the plaintiff” within the meaning of section 2-1117 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-1117)? If we answer this question in the affirmative, then all defendants sued by the plaintiff, including those who settled prior to trial, may be included on the jury verdict form so that the fact finder can assign each defendant their degree of fault, if any. If we answer this question in the negative, then only those defendants who remain when the case is submitted to the fact finder may be included on the verdict form.

Ready v. United, 367 Ill. App. 3d 272, 854 N.E. 758, 2006 WL 2434935 (2006).
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One Chicago medical malpractice case that did not involve either doctors or nurses was resolved too late to benefit the victim. In 1999 a Chicago area woman went to her gynecologist for her annual pap smear. Because she had been previously diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease she was at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer, and therefore her doctor recommended annual pap smears. The pap smear was sent to a large national lab to be read. The results were communicated to the gynecologist as a normal pap smear. Approximately ten months later the patient contacted her gynecologist because she was having unusual discharges and she came in for an appointment. Upon physical examination the physician made a visual diagnosis of cervical cancer which was later confirmed by a biopsy.
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An Illinois internet prescription malpractice suit named two physicians, one from New Jersey and one from Pennsylvania for prescribing Xanax and Ultram to an Illinois resident based solely on an online questionnaire. In May 2004 a 31 year old Illinois man received 60 2mg tablets of Xanax and 90 50mg tablets of Ultram based upon the internet application. The prescriptions were filled by internet pharmacies located in Florida. The plaintiff testified that he recalls taking one tablet of the Xanax and one tablet of the Ultram, and the next thing that he recalls is waking up in a hospital three weeks later.
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An Illinois medical malpractice case I recently handled where an anesthetic was injected into the victim’s spinal cord ended successfully for a Chicago area woman. A 44 year old Chicago area woman became a victim of medical malpractice when she went into a surgical center for repair of a torn rotator cuff. Prior to the surgery the anesthesiologist injected the patient with an anesthetic to reduce post operative pain. The anesthetic was injected into the patient’s spinal cord, instead of proximate to the brachial plexus nerve. As a result of the anesthetic entering the patient’s spinal cord, the patient suffered partial paralysis of her arms and legs as well as numbness over large areas of her trunk.
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