CHICAGO — In a recently publicized example of a large payout in a health-care lawsuit, a doctor and hospital accused of not diagnosing a man’s fatal aortic dissection in time agreed to pay $925,000 to the deceased patient’s family.
Barbara Mini sued Dr. Ira Asher and La Grange Memorial Hospital, where her husband, Joseph Mini, a 51-year-old electric worker, sought emergency medical services in 2010.
On Jan. 25, 2010, Mini experienced severe back pain and called his chiropractor, who consulted with Joseph Mini’s primary doctor about a potential cardiovascular connection. The two care providers sent Mini to the emergency room. Mini then waited about two hours for a CT scan at La Grange Memorial Hospital. The test would answer whether he was suffering from an aortic dissection, an often fatal condition that involves a tear in the large blood vessels branching off the heart.
Barbara Mini’s lawsuit claimed, while her husband showed symptoms of aortic dissection, Asher didn’t consider it or act quickly enough to treat it. Asher and the hospital agreed to settle the case, but argued that they acted reasonably, adding that because Joseph Mini’s condition was so severe, any delay in determining the cause and treating it couldn’t have contributed to his death.
“While this monetary compensation is small comfort to Barbara Mini and her family to assist with the remaining medical bills, the settlement brings closure and more importantly, accountability to Dr. Asher, nurses and staff at La Grange Memorial Hospital who should have provided her husband with a timelier diagnosis and the proper medical care that was expected of them,” said attorney Stephan Blandin, principal and partner at the Chicago firm of Romanucci & Blandin, LLC, in a press release. “It is our hope that pursuing cases like these will bring greater attention to both the threat of aortic dissection and the greater issue of medical negligence.”
While not commenting on the Mini case, the Illinois State Medical Society disagrees cocnering the source of the greater issue, however.
ISMS president Dr. Thomas M. Anderson said there are two relevant trends.
"On the positive side, the number of claims filed each year has trended downward. However, the progress in this area has been offset by alarming increases in the average amount paid per claim," Anderson told the Cook County Record. “Recently, several Illinois jurisdictions have had hefty jury verdict awards for medical liability claims. Illinois remains a plaintiff-friendly environment, and Cook County is certainly no exception.”
Medical malpractice attorneys in the state note multimillion-dollar outcomes for clients. In February, a $30 million settlement in a case involving a 6-year-old boy with brain damage was the fourth-highest settlement in state claims involving a child.
ISMS has advocated for medical liability reforms, focusing primarily on the courts and related elements, such as jury composition. A 2014 state statute called for six-member juries — a reduction that Anderson said decreases diversity and limits deliberation. The statute is being reviewed by the Illinois Supreme Court.
“ISMS has been active among stakeholders seeking to overturn the jury mandate, and we will similarly engage on any other efforts that reduce legal fairness,” he said. “The proven liability reform solution is a non-economic damage cap, which applies a standard of predictability and fairness for jury verdicts.”
But attempts to put damage caps in place have failed three times and future chances don’t appear hopeful, he said. So, instead, the group is focusing on other issues, including raising expert witness standards, improving medical expense transparency and setting restrictions on venue.
Medical expenses used as evidence in a claim should be limited to the percentage a plaintiff is expected to pay, rather than the total amount billed, which would cut down on inflated verdicts, Anderson said.
He also said ISMS would like to see prohibitions on venue shopping by preventing cases from being heard in counties where neither the plaintiff nor the defendant lives. Madison County is an example of a venue with a reputation for plaintiff-friendly outcomes. It’s in the list of “judicial hellholes” compiled annually by the American Tort Reform Association, which – in the tort reform group's view – evaluates regions on how balanced and fairly civil law and court procedures are applied. Until recently, Cook County was another regular on the list.
“Venue shopping leads to case filings in counties known to have higher verdicts and to have no relationship to the underlying lawsuit,” Anderson said.