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Illinois Appellate Court Awards $4.7 Million Verdict in Wrongful Death Suit Against St. James Hospital

January 6, 2016  ·  By HM&M

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When a patient steps into a hospital or doctor’s office, they are trusting that provider to act responsibly. Unfortunately, recent information indicates that as many as 210,000 to 440,000 people die each year from preventable causes while under the care of a physician. A 49-year-old woman who visited the St. James Hospital of Olympia Fields in 2006 tragically met this very fate while visiting the hospital’s emergency room. With the aid of attorneys Christopher T. Hurley and Mark R. McKenna of Hurley McKenna & Mertz, the Illinois Appellate Court recently ruled in favor of her family, and approved of a jury’s award of $4.7 million as compensation.

Case Details: Failure to Act Quickly during an Asthma Attack Leads to Brain Death

According to court documents, the woman was transported to the hospital by a Matteson Fire Department ambulance. Suffering from a severe asthma attack, she was grasping at her throat and unable to speak upon her arrival. Trial evidence showed it took at least seven minutes to be seen by an emergency department physician. By that time, she had begun to lose consciousness, so the attending physician reportedly told a resident physician to intubate.

Over the next five minutes, the resident allegedly tried and failed to intubate two times. The attending, along with other staff, continued to attempt intubation four more times over the next 10 minutes. As their attempts continued to fail, the patient’s oxygen saturation levels and pulse began to drop. By the time a surgeon was called in to perform a cricothyrotomy (an emergency surgical procedure that, with the use of an incision, creates an opening to allow tube placement when intubation is not possible), the patient had suffered brain death. Three days later, she was removed from life support.

Hospital and Physician Found Negligent

Because the patient had been in severe respiratory distress upon arrival, had not been seen for at least seven minutes by a physician, and ultimately suffered brain death because the attending physician was negligent in both his supervision of the resident and his failure to utilize a well-known procedure for establishing an airway when intubation attempts failed, both the hospital and attending physician were found to be at fault by a jury. This remained true, even after the hospital appealed, attempting to separate themselves from the physician by claiming he was not an employee.

Ultimately, it was determined that, because the patient was in distress at the time of treatment, and because she had been taken to the hospital for care (not directly to the attending’s office or place of practice), the physician was and acted as an apparent agent of the hospital. As a result, they hold a level of responsibility and liability to the patient, regardless of whether or not the attending is an employee. Moreover, any consents signed by the patient’s family could not be used to dismiss the hospital of such liability since the patient, who did not have time to make any decisions regarding her care, did not see or sign any of those documents.

Wrongful Death or Medical Negligence Case? Seek Experienced Legal Counsel

Those that are injured or killed because of that negligence can and do have the right to seek fair compensation; it can never undo the damage, but it can help to provide for family members, cover medical or burial costs, and give survivors the room to grieve the loss of their loved ones. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the case our offices recently represented, hospitals and physicians will often do everything in their power to absolve themselves from guilt or liability. For this reason, it is crucial that you have an attorney working on your side, protecting your rights.

With more than 75 years of combined experience and dedication to handling each case personally and aggressively, Hurley, McKenna & Mertz, P.C., can help. Learn how by scheduling your free initial consultation with our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys.


January 6, 2016

$4.7 Million Jury Verdict Against St. James Hospital of Olympia Fields Affirmed by Illinois Appellate Court

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,... Read More

January 6, 2016

$4.7M Verdict Upheld by 1st District Panel - Chicago Daily Law Bulletin

By Lauraann Wood, Law Bulletin Staff Writer A south suburban hospital cannot escape liability in a $4.7 million judgment by labeling a doctor involved as an independent contractor, a state appeals panel ruled Thursday. The hospital pointed to a release form signed by the patient’s son while she was in a respiratory coma, acknowledging the... Read More

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