April 2009 Archives

April 28, 2009

Four Killed In Tragic Bus Crash

A bus full of tourists visiting California crashed on a highway south of San Francisco leaving four dead and dozens injured.  The crash occured on the popular US 101 highway which travels north-south along the California coast.  The bus apparently struck a center divider ejecting and killing several passengers.

Thirty-two passengers are believed to be injured.  Passengers were taken by bus and helicopter to area hospitals.  The bus tour originated in San Francisco and was headed south to Santa Barbara for a wine tasting tour.  Identities and  the origins of the victims of this tragedy are not currently being reported.

April 28, 2009

Kanye West's Mother's Plastic Surgeon Loses Medical License

The plastic surgeon who treated Kanye West's mother the day before she died has given up his medical license in California.  Donda West, the longtime Chicago, Illinois resident and mother of rap artist Kanye West, died the day after cosmetic surgery at the hands of Dr. Jan Adams.

Adams has had a host of legal and personal problems since 2001, including four malpractice judgments, two DUI arrests and convictions and allegations that he failed to pay child support.  Rather then fight proceedings against him, he voluntarily gave up his medical license.


April 27, 2009

Swine Flu: One Hundred Already Dead, More Expected

More than 100 people have already died from the swine flu in Mexico, major news sources are reporting.  The swine flu is an influenza virus that normally infects pigs.  This swine flu outbreak is alarming because it appears the virus has crossed species and is infecting humans as well.  It appears that the virus which is running rampant through Mexico now is a genetic mixture of the swine, avian and human virus that maintains the architecture of a pig-like flu.  While no cases have yet been reported in Chicago or Illinois, there have been 20 reported cases in other states including New York, California, Kansas and Texas.  The United States Center For Disease Control and Prevention is an excellent resource for swine flu information.

The flu appears to be transmitted through the respiratory system, either through phlegm associated with coughing or sneezing.  Droplets of human fluid get on people's clothing, hands or faces causing contamination.  Contact with pigs or pork have nothing to do with the transmission of the virus.


The symptoms of the swine flu are a fever of over 100 degrees, body aches, coughing, sore throat, respiratory congestion and in some cases, vomitting and diarrhea.  One to four days usually elapse from the time of infection to the onset of symptoms.  There is no vaccine for the swine flu.  If you think that you are infected please call your doctor immediately.


April 23, 2009

Damages Caps Do Not Lower Health Care Costs For Consumers

One of the principal arguments backers of tort reform use to justify damages caps is that increased insurance premiums have an adverse effect on health care costs that are passed on to the consumer.  This argument persists in spite of the fact that there is little or no evidence that this actually occurs.  In California, for instance, caps on medical malpractice damages have been in place for more then thirty years and there has been health care savings passed on to the patient.  The Dallas Morning News is reporting this morning that tort reform is not a panacea for health care costs.

In Texas voters were convinced to amend the state constution to impose a $250,000 cap on pain and suffering damage award.  Again, caps have failed to lower health care costs.  One study, from Dartmouth College, found that health care costs actually rose 24% in the three years after tort reform damages caps were imposed.

Now researchers at the University of Alabama have analyzed health care costs in the 27 states where there is some limit on damages imposed by the legislature, otherwise known as tort reform.  They concluded that there is no correlation between tort reform damages caps and decreased costs of health care.  In fact the price of health insurance has doubled in those states with damages caps and medicare spending has increased on average nearly 5% a year.

April 22, 2009

Cook County, Illinois Jury Returns A $13 Million Verdict In Fatal Car Accident Case

Yesterday, it is being reported, a Cook County, Illinois jury returned a $13 million verdict against a reckless driver who was involved in a car crash while test driving a BMW 530i, killing one of his passengers, the car salesman who was along for the drive.  The jury awarded $13.7 million to the family of 22 year old Roger Czapaski who was killed in the accident in South Barrington, Illinois.

During the test drive the vehicle's driver was drove at 95 mph, more than twice the posted legal speed limit, according to eyewitness testimony.  The vehicle struck another vehicle that was turning into a parking lot at a local church.  The car then struck a light pole causing the vehicle to explode.



April 21, 2009

Abdominal Malrotation Is Commonly Misdiagnosed

The Chicago Sun-Times reported today in its health column about a frequently misdiagnosed medical problem in newborns called malrotation.  Malrotation is an abnormal alignment of the bowels which can cut off blood flow to the baby's intestines.  Malrotation occurs in 1 in 500 births, and most cases are diagnosed within the first year of life.

The condition is often misdiagnosed because its symptoms are often confused with other, less serious conditions, like acid reflux or colic.  The condition can have serious consequences if it goes undiagnosed.  The longer the blood flow is cut off from the intestines, the more harmful the condition can become.  Undiagnosed and untreated it can result in death.  The gold standard treatment is a surgical procedure which untwists the bowel.


It is not completely understood what causes malrotation.  it is known that it occurs in the early stages of fetal development and is more common in children with a family history of malrotation.  Because of the potential fatal consequences of malrotation and the fact that its symptoms are often misunderstood as other minor health problems, the misdiagnosis of malrotation is often the subject matter of medical malpractice lawsuits.

April 20, 2009

Medical Mistakes: How The UK Is Taking Steps Toward Transparency

Sadly, medical mistakes continue to be one of the leading causes of death in the United States.  There are close to 100,000 preventable deaths a year in America making medical errors the fifth leading cause of death in our country.  A culture of shame and a lack of accountability often times prevents full disclosure of medical mistakes to the victims or their families.

In Great Britain steps are being taken at the legislative level to change the secrecy that often involves a medical mistake.  Legislation is being introduced which would make it a doctor's duty to inform the patient or his family if a medical mistake has occured.  This duty of candor will be imposed upon all health care providers and their corporate managers.



This is exciting news.  Full and honest disclosure has many benefits to both the patient's family and the medical profession in general.  By being honest and responsible those medical providers involved in the mistake can hopefully learn, and teach others, in the hopes of avoiding a tragic circumstance in the future.  Furthermore, patients and their families are often looking for an explanation to help make sense out of a senseless tragedy.  Candor will hopefully help victims achieve closure in difficult times. The video above is an excellent example of one person's story about preventable medical errors and the devastation they can cause to both the victim and the victim's family when nobody takes responsibility for a tragic unforseen and preventable medical mistake.

April 17, 2009

California Medical Malpractice Settlement Illustrates Arbitrary Nature Of Caps On Damages

Five medical malpractice cases pending in California settled this week for a sum of $1 million.  The settlements arise out of improper patient care that occured at a Northern California kidney transplant center that has been at the center of a controversy revolving around a poor record of patient care.

Federal and state investigators forced the hospital to close after the transplant waiting list grew to 1600 patients in 2006 while the center did less then 70 transplants.  It has been alleged that these transplants were either delayed or not performed due to bureacratic barriers at the the institution which caused some of the patient's conditions to decline or die before they could receive life saving treatment.

The low dollar figures in these settlements are emblematic of the unfairness caused by California's arbitrary cap on medical malpractice damages which sets the maximum compensation for these types of claims at $250,000.  This cap figure has remained unchanged since it was imposed in the 1970s.  The Supreme Court in Illinois is currently deciding the constitutionality of caps on medical malpractice awards.


April 14, 2009

Damages Extended By The Illinois Appellate Court In Wrongful Birth Lawsuits

The Illinois Appellate Court, First District has extended damages in Wrongful Birth lawsuits to include the damages the victim will sustain after reaching the age of majority.  This is a significant extension beyond the victim's usual rights in these types of cases which were first recognized in Illinois in Siemieniec v. Lutheran General Hospital, 117 Ill.2d 230 (1987). 

Now parents of severely disabled children who were born with disabilities due to the negligence of a doctor who failed to recognize the same in utero can recover damages necessary to care for their disabled child after that child reaches the age of majority.  The court stated that from a public policy perspective the financial burden of this type of care should be borne by the tortfeasor and not the state or the chilld's parents.  Additionally, it now appears that the law in Illinois might recognize damages for the negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Justice O'Brien wrote "that such claims are judged by the ''zone-of-physical danger'' rule set in Rickey v. Chicago Transit Authority, 98 Ill.2d 546 (1983), which provides that before someone can recover for emotional injuries stemming from the tortious injury of a third person, they must show that they were endangered by the defendants' negligence and suffered a physical injury because of it" Clark v. Children's Mem. Hosp., 1-08-0610 (Ill.App. 4-9-2009)


April 13, 2009

Chicago Nursing Home Death Ruled Murder

The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting that the death of a 63 year old man who lived at the Burnham Terrace Nursing Home in Burnham, Illinois was a murder.  Thomas Donavan later died at South Shore Hospital from multiple injuries suffered during the assault, hypertension and diabetes.

Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect continues to be a problem for our nation's growing elderly population.  Residents of nursing homes are entittled to a safe and caring environment when they are confined to a residential care facility like a nursing home. 



April 7, 2009

Colorado Contemplating Raising Medical Malpractice Caps

Glori Anne Scott of the Examiner.com wrote an excellent piece in support of the Colorado Legislature's recent attempts to raise statutory caps on medical malpractice cases in that state.

Her explanation applies to counter the arguments of tort reformers everywhere.  While it will likely be a long and difficult battle to educate the Colorado legislature on the benefits of allowing a jury to fairly and accurately adjudicate medical malpractice cases on their merits without artificial limits on liability, the fact that the issue is even on the agenda is a positive steps for consumers and patients nationwide.

Here is an excerpt from her excellent piece:

MYTH #1: It is easy to file a medical malpractice suit. In fact, it is very difficult (and expensive) to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Most attorneys will not take on a medical malpractice case unless the damages are high and the liability is clear. Even in clear-liability cases, it can be difficult to provide the required evidence to prove your claim. Additionally, your expert witnesses will, by nature, likely be other doctors. It is hard to find credible, reputable witnesses who will testify that another doctor made a mistake. If you do find a good witness, testimony and report fees for doctors can be extremely high because their time is valuable.

MYTH #2: Statutory caps prevent astronomic awards. Wrong. Juries prevent astronomic awards. Just because the caps are increased does not mean that juries will hand out money hand over fist. What the statutory caps actually do is prevent a catastrophically injured patient from recovering adequate compensation for medical bills, time lost from work, pain and suffering, disfigurement, etc. These days, many malpractice cases are actually resolved in arbitration (where a panel of arbitrators hears testimony and decides the award), but under the current statutory caps, the arbitrators deciding the case have their hands tied if they believe the victim deserves a larger award.

MYTH #3: Statutory caps are high enough already. Current statutory caps are $300,000 for non-economic losses such as pain and suffering. The previous cap was $250,000, set in 1988. It took 15 years for that amount to be adjusted for inflation to the current cap. It has been six years since the last inflation adjustment; let's not wait another 15 years. Additionally, the statutory cap on economic losses is currently $1,000,000 (though a judge has the discretion to award more). Anyone who has dealt with the medical system knows that medical bills can pile up quickly, even for a minor accident. Now imagine a health care provider's carelessness causes debilitating paraplegia, requiring 24-hour care for the rest of the patient's life. These medical costs will easily surpass the statutory cap within no time. Additionally, many assume that if they have health insurance that pays their medical bills, any settlement money goes into their pocket. However, insurance companies have right of subrogation and can recollect what they have paid out if a settlement is reached, profoundly minimizing the victim's recovery.

MYTH #4: Malpractice suits are only filed by greedy people. Many people assume that all litigation is "frivolous litigation" and insist they themselves would never file a civil suit. And then a loved one loses a baby due to a doctor's incompetence. Or a child becomes paralyzed, or even loses his life, due to a doctor's mistake. Or an "angel of death" decides to play god. All of a sudden, someone has to pay. While I would never claim that there are no frivolous lawsuits, I do believe we need an unfettered civil system within which to try claims, for those cases in which real damages are clearly the fault of another party. There are significant checks and balances within the civil system to ensure that fraudulent, excessive claims do not prevail.

April 5, 2009

Medical Malpractice Settlement Marathon

The Nevada Supreme Court has ordered litigants in medical malpractice cases to take steps to resolve those matters in order to decrease the court's backlog.  Two senior judges have been assigned in Clark County to conduct a settlement marathon in May in the hopes of resolving the 216 oldest cases on the court's docket.  The Judges plan to hold up to eighteen settlement conferences a week.

Apparently Clark County, Nevada, home to Las Vegas, has more then 400 medical malpractice cases pending statewide.  This number seems relatively small in comparison to the number of cases we have pending in Cook County, Illinois.

April 3, 2009

University Of Chicago Medical Center Faces Lawsuit From Rape Victim

A Cook County judge has recently permitted a lawsuit brought by a former University of Chicago student proceed on a medical malpractice theory that the U of C's student medical center was negligent in not doing a "rape kit" after a student was assaulted, denying her the ability to secure criminal charges against her attacker.  The University claims that the student refused the rape kit at the time of her examination.

The victim was raped at a party while she was a student at The U of C several years ago.  She was required by her student health insurance to seek treatment at the student health clinic.  The clinic failed to offer her a rape kit and because of its absence the victim alleges that the police and state's attorney declined to prosecute her attacker.  She also sued her attacker in civil court and allegedly settled with him for an undisclosed sum.