Illinois Appellate Court Allows Expert Testimony Regarding Different Treatment Plans – Taylor v. County of Cook

The First District Appellate Court of Illinois affirmed a not guilty jury verdict in the medical malpractice lawsuit of Raven Taylor v. The County of Cook, et al., No. 1-09-3085. While the plaintiff appealed the verdict on several counts, perhaps the most significant of the appellate court’s rulings was in regards to the content of an expert’s testimony. While Taylor’s counsel argued that a medical expert could not testify regarding a medical treatment if he did not use it in his own practice, the appellate court found otherwise. It held that a medical expert could offer opinions about a medical treatment even if he used a different treatment in his own practice.

Taylor arose out of medical treatment Raven Taylor received at Cook County Hospital after experiencing migraines, joint stiffness and pain, and loss of her peripheral vision. While Taylor also received treatment for these various symptoms at Oak Forest Hospital, it was the treatment plan developed at Cook County Hospital that was the subject of the medical malpractice lawsuit. The Cook County Hospital staff suspected that Taylor’s symptoms were being caused by polymyositis, an inflammatory muscular disease that can eventually lead to muscular problems. While polymyositis generally worsens muscle function slowly, in some cases it can progress rapidly and even lead to permanent disabilities.

Taylor unfortunately had the quick acting form of polymyositis and was in fact left with permanent disabilities. Her attorney and medical experts contended that her poor outcome was due to the fact that the physicians at Cook County Hospital were not aggressive enough in diagnosing and treating Taylor’s severe case of polymyositis. However, the defendants’ medical experts testified that while the doctors could have employed alternate treatment plans, that their actions were still within the acceptable standard of care. It was this testimony that was the subject of the appellate court’s case review.

Taylor had been treated at the two Chicago area hospitals for almost two months before her diagnosis of polymyositis was confirmed by a muscle biopsy. By that time she had already lost a lot of muscle control and was receiving rehab treatments in order to try and recover some of her muscle loss. The Cook County Hospital doctors were treating her with steroid therapy. However, despite these treatments, Taylor’s disease worsened and she eventually was left with permanent disabilities.

At the Cook County medical malpractice trial, Taylor’s expert testified that she should have instead received higher doses of the steroids than she was prescribed and given, or that she should have been given a different kind of drug that would have been more aggressive in treating the polymyositis. The expert testified that the defendant doctors violated the standard of care by not treating her disease as aggressively as possible.

However, the defendants’ medical experts testified that the doctors were within the standard of care. The experts stated that there are a variety of different options for treating polymyositis and that the steroid therapy that Taylor was prescribed was one of the acceptable options. Typically when a medical expert testifies as to the standard of care, it is assumed that he has first-hand knowledge of the acceptable practice in similar circumstances. And while the defendants’ experts all practiced in the same or similar medical fields as the defendant doctors, one of the experts stated that while the steroid therapy was within the standard of care, that he personally would have suggested a different treatment plan for Taylor.

Taylor’s attorney sought to have this testimony stricken on the grounds that the expert’s testimony was inconsistent. However, in its decision the appellate court allowed the expert’s testimony, stating that:

During his evidence deposition, [the defendants’ expert] stated that multiple treatment options exist that comply with the standard of care to treat a patient with severe polymyositis . . . [his] preference for one method is not inconsistent with his testimony that three treatment options exist, including his preferred option, an option used by defendants.

Therefore, the court’s ruling would suggest that a medical professional can testify as to the general standard of care regarding his/her medical speciality, even if he/she does not employ the specific treatment in his/her own practice.

Chicago’s Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois medical malpractice cases for individuals and families for over 35 years in and around Chicago and Cook County, including Naperville, Elmhurst, Franklin Park, Oak Park, and Des Plaines.

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