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Chicago Jury Awards Record Verdict to 72-Year-Old Man Who Suffered Stroke Due to Medical Malpractice

May 9, 2024  ·  By HM&M

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Christopher T. Hurley, Mark R. McKenna, and Clint T. Pierce of the law firm Hurley McKenna & Mertz, P.C. have won a record setting jury verdict of over $41 Million against OSF HealthCare System, Fresenius Medical Care of Illinois, RenalCare Associates, and Dr. Sudha Cherukuri on behalf of a 72-year-old man who suffered a catastrophic stroke because the defendants failed to properly manage his blood thinning medication Coumadin.


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In March of 2016, Plaintiff Craig Pierce, a then 64-year-old lawyer residing in Bushnell, Illinois, was a patient at Defendant OSF HealthCare System’s St. Francis Hospital in Peoria, undergoing treatment for pneumonia. During the hospital admission, Mr. Pierce developed an acute kidney injury due to his pneumonia treatment, requiring short-term dialysis and consultation by nephrologists. OSF HealthCare System cardiologists also diagnosed Mr. Pierce with atrial fibrillation [AFib], a common heart condition characterized by an abnormal heart rhythm with irregular beating of the atrial chambers of the heart. Patients with AFib are at increased risk of cardioembolic stroke because blood can pool in the heart’s left atrium due to the patient’s irregular heart rate, where a large clot can develop, break off and travel to the brain. For this reason, AFib patients must be treated with anticoagulation medicine to reduce the risk of clots and cardioembolic stroke.

On March 10, 2016, OSF cardiologist Dr. Barry Clemson and his fellow, Dr. Jeffrey Heslop, prescribed the well-known anticoagulant Coumadin to reduce Mr. Pierce’s risk of stroke, and recommended that he have his blood tested daily to ensure that the drug was working as intended. AFib patients on Coumadin must have their blood tested regularly to make sure their international normalized ratio, or INR, is in the therapeutic range of 2.0 to 3.0. AFib patients on Coumadin with an INR level below 2.0 are at high risk of cardioembolic stroke, and the standard of care requires any physicians aware of a patient’s low INR level to increase the patient’s Coumadin dose to get the patient into the therapeutic range.

An OSF hospitalist discharged Mr. Pierce on March 14, 2016, with a prescription to take 3 mg of Coumadin per day, and for Mr. Pierce to receive outpatient short-term dialysis for his acute kidney injury at a Fresenius dialysis facility in Macomb, Illinois. At discharge, Mr. Pierce’s INR level was 1.9 and subtherapeutic, and there was no discharge plan to monitor his outpatient INR levels.

Over the next four weeks, Mr. Pierce received four dialysis treatments at Fresenius. Fresenius assigned nephrologist Dr. Sudha Cherukuri, also the facility’s Medical Director, to oversee Mr. Pierce’s care. Fresenius dialysis nurses drew Mr. Pierce’s blood three times during that period for lab testing, which included INR levels. Mr. Pierce’s INR levels dropped during that period, and by April 5, 2016, his INR was 1.3–dangerously subtherapeutic and leaving him at high risk for stroke. However, no healthcare provider increased Mr. Pierce’s Coumadin dose to get him into the therapeutic range and reduce his stroke risk.

On the morning of April 13, 2016, Mr. Pierce suffered a large right middle cerebral artery stroke in his brain. CT imaging that day revealed that a large clot, most likely originating in Mr. Pierce’s left atrium, had lodged in his brain and cut off blood circulation to nearly all of the right side of Mr. Pierce’s brain. Since the date of the stroke, Mr. Pierce, now 72 years old, has been paralyzed on the left side of his body and has suffered from severe cognitive deficits. He has been unable to practice law, or function independently at all, and his wife Susan and grandchildren have provided him with twenty-four hour per day care at his home.

In 2020, Hurley McKenna & Mertz filed suit in the Circuit Court of Cook County on behalf of Craig and Susan Pierce against Defendants Fresenius, Dr. Cherukuri and RenalCare Associates for medical malpractice, alleging their failure to monitor Mr. Pierce’s INR levels and increase his Coumadin dose to prevent stroke. After Dr. Cherukuri testified in a 2022 deposition that she was not managing Mr. Pierce’s Coumadin, and that she believed OSF personnel were handling that part of Mr. Pierce’s care, Hurley McKenna & Mertz added OSF HealthCare System as a defendant. In an Amended Complaint, they alleged that OSF, through its cardiologist, Dr. Clemson, and its hospitalist and nurses, was negligent in failing to monitor Mr. Pierce’s INR levels and increase his Coumadin dose to put him in the therapeutic range. Instead, OSF negligently relied on Fresenius and Dr. Cherukuri to manage AFib even though it is a heart condition—not a kidney condition.

The case went to trial beginning April 10, 2024, before Cook County Circuit Court Judge Thomas V. Lyons. At trial, Plaintiffs’ trial lawyers Chris Hurley, Mark McKenna, and Clint Pierce (the nephew of Plaintiff Craig Pierce) presented evidence that OSF had a Coumadin Clinic on site available to manage Mr. Pierce’s INR levels and Coumadin therapy, either in person or by telephone. However, OSF cardiologist Dr. Clemson and OSF’s hospitalist and nurses never referred Mr. Pierce to their Coumadin Clinic, and OSF personnel incorrectly assumed Fresenius and its nephrology personnel would manage the patient’s AFib.

All defendants admitted at trial that someone needed to manage Mr. Pierce’s Coumadin and INR levels. However, OSF’s personnel, including cardiologist Dr. Clemson, and three retained standard of care experts testified that in their opinion it was the responsibility of Fresenius and nephrology providers to monitor and manage Mr. Pierce’s outpatient INR levels and Coumadin therapy. In response, the nephrology defendants and their experts testified that OSF and its cardiology personnel were responsible for monitoring and managing Mr. Pierce’s Coumadin therapy because AFib is a heart condition.

On May 7, 2024, the jury rendered a verdict in favor of both Craig and Susan Pierce and against defendants OSF HealthCare System, Fresenius Medical Care of Illinois, LLC, RenalCare Associates, S.C., and Sudha Cherukuri, M.D. The jury awarded both Plaintiffs the sum of $41,149,942.38 in damages, allocating $35,149,942.38 of the award to Craig Pierce for his injuries, and $6,000,000.00 to Susan Pierce for her injuries including the loss of her relationship with her husband and the loss of her husband’s services.

The total verdict of $41,149,942.38 is the largest verdict in Illinois history for a stroke case. The jury’s verdict is also the largest in Illinois history for a medical malpractice plaintiff over 70 years of age. Since Illinois law permits successful plaintiffs to obtain prejudgment interest, the total amount of the verdict as of now is $44,863,583.75.

HMM founding partner Christopher Hurley praised the jury’s time and attention devoted to reaching the record verdict. “The jury’s verdict is bittersweet for this wonderful family, which has been devastated by Craig’s injury and the loss of his ability to function independently and practice law. Craig was a pillar of his community as a successful lawyer and member of his local school board. During the month-long trial, the jury carefully considered all of the evidence and rendered a just verdict. Craig Pierce will now receive the twenty-four hour per day care that he needs and deserves.”

The case is entitled THE CHICAGO TRUST COMPANY, N.A., Guardian of the Estate of CRAIG F. PIERCE, a Disabled Person, and SUSAN PIERCE, Individually v. Sudha Cherukuri, M.D., et al., Cook County Circuit Court No. 2021 L 007988.

Questions regarding the case can be directed to Christopher Hurley at (312) 209-4900 (churley@hurley-law.com), Mark McKenna at (312) 310-4900 (mmckenna@hurley-law), or Clint Pierce at (312) 283-4597 (cpierce@hurley-law.com).

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