Lipkin & Higgins was contacted by the daughter of a 71 year old woman who died in the emergency room of a Chicago area hospital. The woman came to the emergency room in the middle of the night with a partially swollen tongue, and died three hours later when her tongue became fully swollen, blocked her airway, and resulted in cardiac arrest.
Plaintiff retained three experts- an emergency room physician, an allergist and an ear, nose and throat physician who testified in brief, that the patient had been experiencing an anaphylactic reaction/angioedema of her upper airway, and required administration of epinephrine or a timely intubation (insertion of breathing tubes through the nose or mouth, or by incision into the trachea) to stave off a rapidly progressing airway obstruction. Defendant’s failure to provide this treatment constituted both a violation of the standard of care (i.e. negligence applied to medical providers) and an increased risk of harm that the patient would die. The case was presented under a legal principle known as Lost Chance Doctrine, wherein a Plaintiff has to prove only that the negligent medical treatment resulted in an increased risk of harm, or a lessened chance of recovery, in order to prove the case. Evidence that medical treatment would have resulted in a better outcome is not required.
Defendant denied wrongdoing throughout litigation, and retained four expert witnesses to offer the opinion that epinephrine was not required, and that the intubation was performed in a timely manner. In the defendant’s view, the patient died from unfortunate consequences for which the hospital should not be held liable. Some twenty depositions were taken, all of which were of medical witnesses, aside from family members. At the end, with trial but two days away from starting, the defendant decided to offer a substantial amount of money to settle, large enough for the patient’s family not to want to risk by going to trial.
The case was litigated over a nearly three year period, settling on the eve of trial. Settlement proceeds will be divided among surviving family members according to Illinois statute.