Cook County Record

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Hospital vicarious liability; wrongful death claims past repose; Lakefront Trail liability on IL Sup Ct Sept call

By Jonathan Bilyk | Sep 5, 2017

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Northwestern Memorial Hospital, the flagship facility of one of the Chicago area’s largest health systems, has asked the Illinois Supreme Court to take another look at a state appeals court’s decision it should bear liability for the actions of doctors not employed by the hospital, at a clinic not operated by the hospital.

The state’s high court is expected to take up this appeal, among other high profile and legally vexing cases, during its September term, which begins Sept. 12 in Springfield.

In the case of Yarbrough et al. v. Northwestern Memorial Hospital, the hospital contends the Illinois First District Appellate Court erred in allowing a Cook County judge to let a woman, identified as Christina Yarbrough, continue pressing her claims the hospital should be made to pay after doctors at a clinic she claims is closely affiliated with the hospital failed to identify and address her physical problems endangering her unborn child.

Yarbrough and David Goodpaster filed suit in late 2009, about three-and-a-half years after Yarbrough delivered her daughter at only 26 weeks gestation. They alleged negligence on the part of Dr. William Grobman and the staff at Erie Family Health Center, a federally-funded community based health care facility with 10 locations in Chicago, as well as clinics in both Evanston and Waukegan.

The suit specifically alleged the Erie clinic staff failed to address her bicornuate uterus and shortened cervix, which led to the premature birth and resulting “numerous medical complications.”

They later amended their lawsuit to include Northwestern, asserting vicarious liability, owing to “close ties” between NMH and Erie.

Northwestern disputed those ties, and a Cook County judge kicked the question to the appeals court for clarification on whether Yarbrough could include Northwestern among the defendants in the case.

The appellate justices answered in the affirmative, saying they believed hospital publicity materials and websites identifying the clinic as a partner and touting “formal and longstanding affiliations,” among other items, is enough to establish Erie Clinic acted as an agent of NMH in this instance.

Oral arguments in this case are scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 14, according to the Illinois Supreme Court’s September docket book.

Also in September, the state high court is expected to take up the question of whether a statute of repose should block plaintiffs from adding a wrongful death claim to a medical negligence claim already in process, should the purported victim of the alleged negligence die while the lawsuit is pending.

The Illinois Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in this matter, docketed as Lawler, etc. v The University of Chicago Medical Center, on Wednesday, Sept. 20, when attorneys representing the University of Chicago Medical Center and other defendants and attorneys for plaintiff Sheri Lawler each present their sides.

The case had landed in the appeals process when Lawler challenged the ruling of a Cook County judge, who had dismissed Lawler’s attempts, following the death of her mother, Jill Prusak, to amend a lawsuit brought against Dr. Rama Jager and UCMC and several of its affiliates, as well as Advocate Christ Hospital and Medical Center in Oak Lawn.

According to the lawsuit filed in 2011, Prusak and Lawler alleged Jager had misdiagnosed a tumor in Prusak’s central nervous system as an eye ailment. Prusak died in 2013, and Lawler then sought to add wrongful death claims to the suit.

UCMC and the other defendants responded by asking the court to dismiss those claims, asserting they were brought beyond the four-year statute of repose.

After the judge dismissed the death claims, his decision was overturned by the First District appeals court, which sided with Lawler in determining the death claims flowed out of the negligence claim, and defendants were not blindsided by “a new set of facts.”

In other cases on the September docket, the Illinois Supreme Court is also scheduled to hear arguments in the cases of:

  • Citibank v The Illinois Department of Revenue, Sept. 19. In this case, the state tax collectors are asking the court to overturn the determination by both a Cook County judge and the First District appeals court that the state should refund more than $1.6 million in sales taxes paid by Citibank. The financier argued it should get the money back because the bank had financed that amount on behalf of people who bought cars financed through auto loans from Citibank, but had never been repaid after the consumers defaulted on the loans. The state, however, contends the money should be non-refundable in this instance.

  • Cohen v Chicago Park District, Sept. 20. In this case, the CPD contends the First District appeals court erred in allowing a man to press his claims the park district should be held liable after his bicycle wheel became lodged in an unrepaired deep crack in Chicago’s Lakefront Trail. The district argued Illinois state law should exempt the district, as local governmental entity, from being sued for injuries caused by a condition of a “road which provides access to fishing, hunting or primitive camping, recreational or scenic areas.” A Cook County judge agreed, but a three-justice panel on appeal did not, finding the word “primitive” in the law should govern in this case. Since the Lakefront Trail doesn’t serve “primitive, undeveloped recreational areas,” the appeals justices said the case should be allowed to proceed.
In all, the state high court is expected to hear oral arguments in 16 cases in from Sept. 12-20.


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Organizations in this Story

Northwestern Memorial HospitalErie Family Health CenterChicago Park DistrictIllinois Supreme CourtIllinois First District Appellate CourtCitibankIllinois Department of Revenue