Cook County Record

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Appeals panel: Northwest Community Hospital internal documents 'privileged' in wrongful death case


By Cook County Record | Aug 16, 2018

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CHICAGO — A state appellate panel has reversed a Cook County judge's order requiring Northwest Community Hospital in suburban Arlington Heights to release 17 internal documents in discovery to lawyers for a family suing over a woman's death, despite the hospital's contention the documents should be privileged.

On July 27, the three-justice panel of the Illinois First District Appellate Court in Chicago overruled Cook County Judge Moira Susan Johnson, who had determined the documents, including meeting minutes of the hospital's audit committee, a peer review document, "patient safety event debriefing meeting notes" and other internal documents potentially related to the case should be turned over to the plaintiffs through discovery. 

In a 21-page ruling, Justice Maureen E. Connors, joined in concurrence by justices Joy V. Cunningham and Mathias W. Delort, said the trial court judge had erred, and those documents should be no longer available to plaintiff Barry Mnookin. 

Mnookin is suing the hospital and staff, alleging wrongful death in the case of his relative Millicent E. Mnookin. 

In the opinion, Justice Connors noted Mnookin and his lawyers had received the medical records of his deceased relative. Also, the justices noted, in a malpractice lawsuit, parties can also depose all those that were involved in treatment and bring in expert witnesses to provide their opinion on that care. 

“Therefore,” Connors wrote, "the denial of this information to such plaintiffs should have little impact on their ability to maintain their cause of action.”

In 2015 Millicent Mnookin underwent surgery at NCH. During the procedure, she was administered general anesthesia. While under anesthesia, the suit says, she suffered a drop in oxygen and experienced cardiac arrest.  Mnookin passed away 15 days later in the hospital's intensive care unit. 

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit six months later against defendents, including the hosptial and the anesthesiologist for the surgical procedure, Dr. Syed Ahmed, alleging negligence. The nurses and other hospital staff involved in the procedure were also sued by Mnookin. 

The initial trial court ruled during discovery that the hospital was required to turn over 17 documents to the plaintiffs for viewing. These included audit committee minutes, a peer review document, a “patient safety event debriefing meeting notes,” and other internal papers related to the case. The judge in the trial case wrote that “the concerns that I have fall with information that had to have been or should have been contained in medical records of some sort that were then used in support of providing data to the group.” 

Northwest Community argued that the documents were privileged. The trial judge overruled the privilege claim. The judge also granted the hospital's request to find the hospital in "friendly contempt," to allow the hospital the chance to appeal the discovery order.

And on appeal, the justices sided firmly with the hospital on the nature of these particular contested documents.

"The documents in question fall squarely within (state law's) description of privileged documents," Connors wrote.

The justices also vacated the contempt order.

According to Cook County court records, the plaintiffs in the case have been represented by attorneys with the firm of Salvi & Schostok PC, of Chicago. NCH has been represented by attorneys with the firm of Hall Prangle & Schoonveld LLC, of Chicago.

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Organizations in this Story

Northwest Community HospitalHall, Prangle & Schoonveld, LLCCircuit Court of Cook CountySalvi, Schostok, & Pritchard PC.