On December 31, 2015, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed a $4.7 Million jury verdict against St. James Hospital of Olympia Fields and one of its emergency department physicians on behalf of the family of a 49-year-old woman who suffered brain death in the hospital's emergency department in 2006.
The suit alleged that on July 9, 2006, a Matteson Fire Department ambulance brought Georgia Tagalos to the St. James Hospital emergency room at 1:45 p.m. Upon her arrival at the hospital, Mrs. Tagalos was grasping her throat and unable to speak due to a severe asthma attack.
Evidence at the trial established it took at least seven minutes for Mrs. Tagalos to be seen by an emergency department physician at the hospital. By that point, Mrs. Tagalos began to lose consciousness due to her inability to breath. At approximately 1:56 p.m., an attending physician in the hospital's emergency department, Dr. Perry Marshall, told a resident physician in training, Dr. Julie Mills, to intubate Mrs. Tagalos. Dr. Mills attempted to intubate Mrs. Tagalos two times over five minutes without success. Between 2:01 p.m. and 2:11 p.m., Dr. Marshall allowed four more unsuccessful intubation attempts on Mrs. Tagalos. During this time period, Mrs. Tagalos was not receiving any oxygen, and her oxygen saturation level and pulse were dropping rapidly. By the time Dr. Marshall requested a surgeon at the hospital to come to the emergency room and perform a successful cricothyrotomy—an emergency procedure where an incision is made to the patient's throat to allow a tube to be passed to the patient's lungs in order to provide oxygen–Mrs. Tagalos was nearly pulseless and had suffered brain death due to hypoxia (lack of oxygen). She was removed from life support at the hospital on July 12, 2006.
Suit was filed in 2008 against St. James Hospital and emergency department physicians Dr. Marshall and Dr. Mills, alleging that they were negligent in waiting seven minutes to attend to Mrs. Tagalos when she was in severe respiratory distress upon arrival to the hospital, that Dr. Marshal was negligent in his supervision of Dr. Mills, and that they were negligent in attempting six unsuccessful intubation attempts on a patient without oxygen before performing a cricothyrotomy, a well-known emergency procedure utilized by emergency physicians to establish an airway when intubation is unsuccessful.
The case was tried before Cook County Circuit Court Judge Lorna Propes in November, 2013. After a week-long trial the jury exonerated Dr. Mills, and entered guilty verdicts against Dr. Marshall and St James Hospital.
On appeal the hospital claimed that it should not be held liable for the conduct of emergency physician Dr. Marshall because he was not an employee of the hospital. The hospital also sought a new trial because the trial judge barred from the evidence a consent form, signed by Tagalos's son after his mother was already brain dead, which stated that the emergency department physicians were not employees of the hospital.
In its decision today the Illinois Appellate Court rejected the hospital's attempt to avoid liability for the negligent acts of Dr. Marshall in the hospital's emergency department based solely on his technical employment status. The Court held that e the jury could reasonable find that Dr. Marshall was an apparent agent of the hospital, especially when the patient is seeking emergency care from the hospital itself and not any particular physician. In its ruling today, which is applicable in every situation where a patient seeks care from a hospital and not a specific physician, the Appellate Court stated:
“Here, the plaintiff was seeking emergency care from the hospital itself. Plaintiff did not choose to be treated specifically by Dr. Marshall, the doctor was simply the attending physician in the emergency room that day. Neither party chose the other. Instead, it was the hospital that chose Dr. Marshall to treat Tagalos. Plaintiff did not even live in the area and was simply taken to defendant-hospital as a result of its proximity to the location where her respiratory emergency occurred. The hospital holds itself out as a provider of general emergency care. Tagalos had no way to know nor to choose who would render her care, she was in respiratory distress and could not speak; nor did she have time, all persons involved recognized that her need for care was extremely urgent. Tagalos could not have known that the people rendering care to her were not employees. In the end, it was the province of the jury to resolve this question of fact, which it properly did in plaintiffs favor.”
Further, the Appellate Court held that the hospital's consent form was irrelevant and properly excluded from evidence by the trial judge, since a patient can never be legally bound to knowledge contained in a form she never saw and never signed.
The case is entitled Ted Fragogiannis, as Special Administrator of the Estate of Georgia Tagalos v. Sisters of St. Francis Health Services, Inc. and Perry Marshall, D.O., Illinois Appellate Court Numbers 1-14-2706 and 1-14-7888 (consolidated). The Illinois Appellate Court's decision is reported at 2015 IL App (1st) 142706, and is attached to this press release.
Questions regarding the case and the Illinois Appellate Court decision can be directed to Christopher T. Hurley at (312) 209-4900.