A state appeals court has slashed a medical malpractice jury verdict from $22 million to $7 million, saying the plaintiff’s death during the trial should negate the jury’s decision to order the defendants to pay her family an additional $14 million for future damages.
On Dec. 4, 2015, a Cook County jury found in favor of plaintiff Jeanette Turner, a mother of six who sued the doctors, hospital and others who provided medical care to her while she was hospitalized at Chicago’s Mercy Hospital and Medical Center in late February 2005. The verdict included more than $22 million to the family of Turner, who suffered brain damage, leaving her disabled and dependent on the care of others, as a result of an alleged lack of medical attention to a tracheostomy blocked by blood clots. Turner died after the case went to the jury, but before its verdict.
The jury award, totaling about $22.1 million, included $663,860 for medical services received to date, $2.5 million for disfigurement, $1 million for emotional distress suffered to date and $2 million for loss of normal life experienced to date. The award also included more than $14 million for future medical expenses, future loss of normal life and future expected emotional distress stemming from her injuries and disabilities.
The defendants asked the Illinois First District Appellate Court in Chicago to reduce the verdict or order a new trial, arguing Turner failed to prove Mercy’s negligence caused her injury, and asserting Cook County Circuit Judge Clare E. McWilliams erred in admitting evidence regarding Turner’s blood clot and said allowing Turner’s lawyers to introduce a new theory of negligence during rebuttal.
They further said the verdict for future damages should be vacated because Turner died, and also that the $1 million awarded for past emotional distress is redundant with the $500,000 awarded for past pain and suffering and the $2 million for past loss of normal life.
Justice Mary Anne Mason wrote the appellate opinion; justices P. Scott Neville and Aurelia Pucinski concurred.
The panel refused to order a new trial, saying Mercy’s argument rests on the false premise “that there was no testimony regarding how earlier intervention would have prevented” Turner’s injury. It also said the jury’s finding that Mercy’s negligence could have cause Turner’s injury was reasonable, supported by “significant evidence” and expert testimony.
Although the panel said Mercy was right to question the admissibility of certain experts, it also said the testimony they offered was cumulative of what the other experts said “and could not have affected the outcome of trial.”
However, the panel sided with the defendants on concerns over the amount of damages. The justices were not persuaded by case law cited by lawyers for Turner’s estate, saying those cases involved bench trials, while a jury decided Turner’s case. Because there was no judgment that could have been entered on the day Turner died, the matter should have converted to a survival action, justices said. As such, the estate shouldn’t be entitled to damages that accrued after her death, which led the panel to vacate more than $15 million in future damages.
“The purpose of tort damages is to make plaintiff whole rather than to bestow a windfall,” Mason wrote.
But because Mercy objected during the trial to Turner’s instruction to split an award for disfigurement into past and future costs, the panel said the defendants were not entitled to a new trial to try to split the amount nor to having the damages restructured. The justices also said a plaintiff is allowed to claim emotional distress for bodily injuries, and thus did not vacate those awards.
Turner and her estate were represented by the firm Lane & Lane LLC, of Chicago.
Mercy was represented by the firm of Hall Prangle & Schoonveld LLC, of Chicago, according to Cook County court records.