I am the lawyer that obtained the $7.7 million dollar jury verdict for the critical care nurse that lost her foot due to malpractice. I would like to respond to Mark Keller’s recent letter to the editor criticizing this award. Mark Keller is a doctor, and although he did not identify himself as such in his letter his self-interest in calling for limits to awards for victims of medical negligence should be noted.
My client went in for elective bunion surgery and due to the negligence of her podiatrist she developed a chronic infection that was misdiagnosed and mistreated for almost a year. As a last resort, her foot was amputated. Over the course of many months before the amputation she experienced excruciating pain as well as severe swelling in her foot and fevers. After the amputation, she became clinically depressed and was unable to return to work.
The verdict in this case was not against the podiatrist — it was against the hospital that failed to ensure that the podiatrist was qualified to perform the foot surgery. The hospital had a written rule requiring all podiatrists to either complete a one year surgical residency or be board certified before they would be allowed to perform complex surgeries. Although the podiatrist met neither condition, the hospital gave him privileges to perform complex surgical procedures. At trial the hospital’s CEO admitted that even though the hospital had over $400 million in revenue last year alone, it does nothing to check the staff’s qualifications against its own rules before allowing doctors or podiatrists to start performing surgery.
The hospital CEO took the stand and made no apology for this dereliction of duty and expressed no intention to change hospital policy.
Only a jury could force the hospital to fairly compensate my permanently disfigured and disabled client. On its own, the hospital only offered to settle this case–after four years of litigation and two weeks of trial–for a mere $100,000.
The medical community needs to direct its energy to following its own rules and providing proper care. This media campaign of fear fostered by insurance companies and the Illinois State Medical Society, which asserts that doctors are leaving Illinois, is false. In the last ten years the number of doctors practicing in Illinois has increased 30%, to almost 40,000. At the same time 530 people die each day in America due to preventable negligence in hospitals. Capping the damages of the most severely injured victims of malpractice will remove any incentive for the medical community to work harder to prevent negligence before it happens. The ultimate result of caps on damages will be to place the burden of caring for the victims of malpractice on you, the taxpayer, instead of on those who caused the injuries through negligent medical care.