Category Archives: Wrongful Death and Survival Claims

Perkey v. Portes-Jarol – Plaintiff met evidentiary standard for Holton “lost chance” claim but the trial court erred in not reducing medical malpractice judgment by the medical charges associated with the claim less the lien amount paid by plaintiff’s insurer

Perkey v. Portes-Jarol, 2013 IL App (2d) 120470 (Spence)

Facts:  Plaintiff sees the defendant, her primary care physician, with complaints of back pain and she orders a CT scan to rule out kidney stones.  The CT report states that the pancreatic ducts dilated and the radiologist recommends additional evaluation with ERCP to assess for either stricture or tumor causing this finding.  The defendant does not refer the plaintiff to a gastroenterologist for evaluation or consideration of the ERCP and the evidence is in direct conflict over whether the defendant discussed the findings of the CT with the plaintiff.  The plaintiff claims it wasn’t discussed at all and defendant claims that he advised that an ERCP wasn’t warranted because she had no other symptoms consistent with cancer and that they should take a “wait and see approach.”  Plaintiff never returned with any further complaints.  About one year later, the plaintiff was getting evaluated to donate a kidney to a friend and underwent another CT scan that led to an ERCP which revealed a tumor.  Plaintiff was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  She underwent a resection procedure and chemotherapy and radiation therapy and was able to resume her normal life.  Four years later she developed cancer in her lung, which was the same type as her pancreatic cancer and had metastasized to her lungs and resulted in her death approximately one year after the diagnosis.

At trial, a surgical oncologist testified that the cause of the dilation seen in the initial CT scan was the plaintiff’s pancreatic cancer and that the delay in her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer from February 2001 to July 2002 was a cause of the recurrence of her cancer in February 2006.  Her pancreatic cancer was Stage IIB when it was removed, which has a 5 year survival rate of 6%, and at the time of the misdiagnosis the cancer was likely a Stage II A, which has a 5 year survival rate of 12% or a Stage IA which has a 5 year survival rate of 36%.  The surgical oncologist conceded that the chances of it having already metastasized at the time of the initial CT scan was greater than 50% but if it had been diagnosed at that time the chances for a cure would have been greater.

The plaintiff’s expert family practice physician testified on direct exam that the treatment provided by the defendant did not conform to the degree of care, knowledge and skill that a reasonably careful family practice physician would use in Chicago in 2001 in like or similar circumstances.  On cross examination she described that the standard of care was what a typical patient would receive from 80% of the doctors.  The defendant moved for a directed verdict at the close of the plaintiffs case arguing that (1) the expert’s definition of the standard of care was improper and (2) the evidence did not support proximate cause because even if the defendant had diagnosed the plaintiff in 2001 her treatment would have been the same and there was more than 50% chance that she would have succumbed to the disease.  The trial court denied the motions on both counts.  The defendant then presented its evidence that the standard of care was met and that the plaintiff was going to die regardless of the diagnosis.  The jury found in favor of the plaintiff and against the defendant and awarded $600,000, of which $310,000 was allocated to the reimbursement of medical bills.

The defendant moved for a new trial on the grounds of (1) the experts incorrect definition of the standard of care, (2) that the proximate cause nexus had not been established, (3) that the jury was improperly instructed on the standard of care because the instruction utilized the term “reasonably careful” family physician, and (4) that the judgment should be reduced by $300,000 pursuant to section 2-1205.  After the motion was filed, the defendants learned that the bills had been paid by Blue Cross Blue Shield for a total of $136,933.85, so they modified their request to a reduction of $175,066.15.  Plaintiff argued that section 2-1205 did not permit a set-off in this case because there was a right of recoupment for the medical bills paid by the insurer. The trial court denied the motion.  Defendant then filed a motion to reconsider and requested that the court consider new documents that were not subpoenaed until after the initial motion.  The trial court granted defendant leave to file additional materials, which showed that the lien was subject to a further reduction of 1/3 under the common fund doctrine, but the trial court granted plaintiff’s motion to strike the materials because they were not “newly discovered” evidence as they were always available to defendant had they requested them prior to the initial motion for new trial.  Defendant appeals.

Holding:  (1) Trial court did not err in denying directed verdict and new trial on basis of experts incorrect definition of the standard of care on cross examination because the plaintiff had used the correct definition in its questioning on direct exam and any inconsistency merely went to the credibility of the witness. (2) The plaintiff’s evidence that the delay in diagnosis decreased her chances of survival met the legal requirements of the lost chance doctrine established in Holton which can be met despite the chances of survival being less than 50%.  (3) The jury instruction defining the standard of care was proper and in conformance with the revised 2011 IPI instruction.  (4) The trial court erred in not reducing the judgment pursuant to section 2-1205 by the medical charges less the amount paid by the insurer.

Filed in Trial Book Under:  Standard of Care, Proximate Cause – Lost Chance, IPI 150.01, Set-Offs, 735 ILCS 5/2-1205, Directed Verdict, New Trial, Motion to Reconsider

Commentary:  There’s a lot of material covered in this case and it is fact intensive so somewhat hard to keep straight, at least for me.  It seemed like a pretty solid case for the plaintiff on the issue of liability and that the defendant did not have a strong understanding or appreciation for the lost chance doctrine.  The lost chance doctrine from the Holton case only requires that Plaintiff establish some evidence that the negligence of the defendant reduced the effectiveness of treatment and that some lost chance of survival resulted.  It does not require that there be a greater than 50% chance of survival.  Here, the survival chances went from only 6% to 12% and Holton applied so this is a good case for citation in the future on this issue.  This case also serves a strong warning to plaintiffs attorneys to educate their experts on the appropriate definition of the standard of care and, just to be safe, work the definition into their questions on direct examination.  Even though the experts are pretty smart in their respective fields, they aren’t lawyers and won’t always appreciate how important the precise language of the instructions can be to the case.  I’ve had this happen to me before with an expert coming up with a goofy definition of the standard of care that then required that I pull out my jury instruction and literally read from it word for word as I asked the expert further questions.  The set-off issue should be a lesson to defense lawyers to get their duckpin a row prior to the trial regarding liens and rights of recoupment.  Even though the appellate court ultimately reduced the judgment, it came very close to finding a waiver on the issue and seemed critical of the defense for not issuing subpoenas until after they had already lost their motion.

Useful Rules/Language from Opinion:

Standard of Care:  In order for an expert to be competent to testify about the standard of care in a particular case, he or she must be licensed in the defendant’s school of medicine and be able to show that he or she is familiar with the methods, procedures, and treatments ordinarily observed by other physicians in the defendant’s community or in a similar community. citing Sullivan v. Edward Hospital, 209 Ill. 2d 100, 112 (2004)

Directed Verdict:  A trial court may not enter a directed verdict or judgment n.o.v. if there is any evidence, together with reasonable inferences drawn from the evidence, demonstrating a substantial factual dispute, or if the assessment of witness credibility or the determination regarding conflicting evidence is decisive to the outcome. Solis v. BASF Corp., 2012 IL App (1st) 110875

New Trial:  A trial court should grant a motion for a new trial if the verdict is contrary to the manifest weight of the evidence. Lawlor, 2012 IL 112530.  That occurs where the opposite result is clearly evident or where the jury’s findings are unreasonable, arbitrary, and not based on any of the evidence. Id. We will reverse a trial court’s ruling on a motion for a new trial only if the trial court abused its discretion. Id

Lost Chance:  In Holton, our supreme court stated, “To the extent a plaintiff’s chance of recovery or survival is lessened by the malpractice, he or she should be able to present evidence to a jury that the defendant’s malpractice, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, proximately caused the increased risk of harm or lost chance of recovery.” Id. at 119. Plaintiffs are not required to prove that they would have had a greater than 50% chance of survival or recovery absent the alleged malpractice. Id.

Battle of the Experts:  The jury was faced with a classic battle of the experts, and the battle was for the jury, as the trier of fact, to resolve. See Davis, 405 Ill. App. 3d at 37-38.

IPI 150.01:  The Studt court did not reject the use of “reasonably careful” in the 2006 version of the instruction. Moreover, the appellate court has directly held that the phrase “reasonably careful” correctly replaces “reasonably well-qualified” in the instruction. Matarese v. Buka, 386 Ill. App. 3d 176, 184-85 (2008); LaSalle Bank, N.A. v. C/HCA Development Corp., 384 Ill. App. 3d 806, 816-17 (2008). Accordingly, we conclude that IPI Civil (2011) No. 105.01 correctly states the law on professional negligence, and the trial court did not err in instructing the jury using this version.

Jury Instruction – New Trial:  A reviewing court will not grant a new trial based on a trial court’s refusal to provide a suggested jury instruction unless the refusal seriously prejudiced the complaining party’s right to a fair trial. Surestaff, Inc. v. Azteca Foods, Inc., 374 Ill. App. 3d 625, 627 (2007).

Motion to Reconsider:  The trial court’s ruling striking the evidence conformed with the principle that “[t]rial courts should not permit litigants to stand mute, lose a motion, and then frantically gather evidentiary material to show that the court erred in its ruling.” Gardner v. Navistar International Transportation Corp., 213 Ill. App. 3d 242, 248 (1991).

Section 2-1205: Here, plaintiff’s interpretation of the statute would be correct if the statute stated “Such reduction shall not apply if there is a right of recoupment.” However, given that the statute says that the reduction shall not apply “to the extent that” there is a right of recoupment, we agree that this language limits the reduction by only the extent of, or amount of, the right to recoupment.

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Filed under Medical Malpractice, Negligence, Post Trial, Proximate Cause, Trial, Wrongful Death and Survival Claims

Lough v. BNSF Ry. Co. – Wrongful Death Plaintiff Fails to Provide Causal Link Between COPD Related Death 22 Months Following Automobile Collision

Lough v. BNSF Ry. Co., 2013 IL App (3d) 120305 (Schmidt)

Facts:  Plaintiff’s decedent was injured in a motor vehicle collision with an employee of the defendant railroad.  22 months after the collision he died.  The death certificate listed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as the cause of death.   His estate brought a wrongful death and survival claim from the collision.  Prior to the collision, plaintiff’s decedent had a long history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease as well as a significant degenerative conditions in his neck and back that had caused chronic pain for many years.  His primary care physician testified in discovery deposition that his pre-existing conditions would make him more susceptible to injury beyond a healthy individual, but on further examination he conceded that “is is more probably true than not…that there is no connection between the car accident and the man’s death.”  The pain management physician also testified in a discovery deposition that he had no quarrel with the cause of death listed on the death certificate and had no other opinion as to any other suspected cause of death.  Based upon the medical testimony adduced during discovery, defendant moved for summary judgment on the wrongful death counts which was granted by the trial court and plaintiff appealed.

Holding:  Trial court did not err in granting summary judgment on wrongful death counts because the testimony of the physicians did not establish that the collision more probably than not was a contributing factor in the decedent’s death and plaintiff’s theory of causation was nothing more than speculation, guess and conjecture.

Filed in Trial Book Under:  Wrongful Death, Proximate Cause, “Eggshell Plaintiff”

Commentary:  This result couldn’t have come as a surprise to the plaintiff.  It seems as if the primary care physician was not merely equivocal about the causal relationship, but rather he concluded that in his opinion it was not a cause of the death.  Once that opinion was brought forth, and none of the other treating physicians contradicted it, the plaintiff would have needed to get an expert witness to establish the causation.  Perhaps the plaintiff’s attorney tried that and was unable to find anyone able to draw the connection, which would not be surprising.  This opinion does a good job of describing the “cause in fact” and “legal cause” analysis required for summary judgment.  Circumstantial evidence is difficult to use when trying to establish proximate cause.  It is certainly permissible, but as this opinion sets forth “when a plaintiff relies upon circumstantial evidence to establish proximate cause to defeat a motion for summary judgment, the circumstantial evidence must be of such a nature as so related as to make the conclusion more probable as opposed to merely possible.”  In this case, the plaintiff wasn’t able to do that and the court correctly granted summary judgment on the wrongful death counts and thus leaving plaintiff with only the survival counts at trial.

It should be noted that the opinion does cite an interesting criminal case called People v. Amigon, 239 Ill.2d 71 (2010) that dealt with causation where the State was able to prosecute a gunshot wound as a murder when the victim died 5 years later as a result of pneumonia on the basis that the medical examiner established that the victim would not have died from pneumonia if he hadn’t been rendered quadriplegic from the gunshot wound.  The Amigon case is a good causation for opinion plaintiffs to use and because it is a criminal case, rather than a civil case, it might fly under the radar during research on the issue.

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Filed under Proximate Cause, Wrongful Death and Survival Claims