A Downstate appellate court has backed a Champaign County judge's decisions in a medical malpractice trial involving a woman's death, which ended with a verdict against plaintiff, saying the judge was right to bar some of plaintiff's evidence, including a coroner's report and death certificate.
The Oct. 25 ruling was penned by Justice John Turner, with concurrence from Justices James Knecht and Craig DeArmond of the Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court in Springfield. The decision went against Donald Williams in his medical malpractice suit against Urbana-based Carle Healthcare and Dr. Kenneth Dols.
The ruling was filed as unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23, meaning it cannot be cited as precedent except in the limited circumstances allowed by the rule.
Dr. Dols performed knee surgery on Williams' wife, Nancy Williams, on Sept. 2, 2011, at Carle Foundation Hospital. For Nancy's recuperation, Dols prescribed a blood-thinning agent, Lovenox, that she took for nine days after surgery.
Nancy walked very little after her procedure, instead spending most of her time on a couch at home. Donald asked Dols several times over several days about ordering physical therapy, which Dols did Sept. 22. Nancy died from a blood clot less than 24 hours later.
Donald Williams filed suit in 2013. His expert medical witness, Dr. Harish Hosalkar, testified Dols should have known Nancy was at risk of a blood clot, and consequently should have prescribed Lovenox longer than nine days and acted faster to get her ambulatory. The defendants' expert, Dr. Tad Gerlinger, testified Dols properly treated Nancy. The case went to trial, with the jury ruling for Dols and Carle Healthcare.
Williams appealed, saying he deserved a new trial, because the trial judge, Michael Jones, refused to let Hosalkar cite the titles and authors of articles he relied on to form his opinions.
Appellate Justice Turner said Jones was not obliged to let Hosalkar list the articles, and plaintiff's case did not suffer from their absence.
“He (Hosalkar) simply wanted to bolster his own testimony with impressive titles and the names of other doctors,” Turner observed.
Williams also argued Jones should have permitted him to introduce the coroner's report and the death certificate as evidence of the cause of death. However, Turner noted state law prohibits use of those records in a wrongful death suit. The only records of a similar nature that can be used are autopsy findings and toxicological results.
At any rate, the report and certificate were not needed, as the plaintiffs used Hosalkar’s testimony to introduce evidence of cause of death, according to Turner.
Williams further took issue with the part of Judge Jones' jury instructions that told jurors the plaintiff claimed Dols failed to properly treat Nancy for an adequate amount of time. Williams did not want “adequate amount of time” included in instructions, but Jones overrode Williams.
Justice Turner agreed with defendants that Williams' instruction risked confusing jurors, because the jury might question whether Dols’ prescription of Lovenox was appropriate. As Turner pointed out, even Hosalkar said Lovenox was proper. In Turner's view, defendants' instruction framed the only issue supported by the evidence, that being whether Dols prescribed the blood thinner for the correct length of time.
Williams noted Nancy had an appointment with Dr. Dols halfway between her surgery and her death, for which Dols' records contained nursing notes and other information, but no note from Dols on Nancy's progress. Plaintiff griped Judge Jones wouldn't instruct jurors to presume the missing progress note would be adverse to Dols. The doctor had no memory of making such a note.
Justice Turner said the note may not even exist, but if it does, its contents are speculative. The trial judge's decision to not instruct jurors on this subject was no ground for a new trial.
Plaintiff has been represented by the Urbana firm of Prillaman & Moore.
Defendants have been defended by the Champaign firm of Thomas, Mamer & Haughey.