There is an old saying that hindsight is always twenty-twenty, i.e., we can always see something coming after the fact. When it comes to medical cases, it is often easy to see the signs and symptoms of a disease after it has run its course. However, diagnosing a disease in its early stages is not always easy; medicine is not a perfect science and doctors can’t always diagnose the problem. Therefore, in order to prove that a doctor negligently failed to diagnose a disease, a patient needs to prove that the doctor should have been able to diagnose the problem, but chose not to.
In the Illinois medical malpractice lawsuit of Zachary Monahan v. Joseph Giordano, D.O., Edward Health Services d/b/a Edward Medical Group, Case No. 07 L 563 (Will County), the plaintiff alleged that his doctor chose not to diagnose his heart disease. However, the WIll County jury disagreed and found the doctor not guilty.
Zachary Monahan had presented to Dr. Giordano, his primary care physician, for several office visits between April and May 2001. During the course of those visits, Monahan continued to complain of a persistent fever, night sweats, and muscle aches. While Dr. Giordano conducted several tests during that time, it was not until Monahan’s final office visit on May 12, 2001 that Dr. Giordano chose to order a blood culture.
The blood culture results showed that Monahan had a blood-born infection. Due to the serious nature of these results Monahan was immediately notified and admitted to Edward Hospital to begin intravenous antibiotics. The cause of his infection was then diagnosed as bacterial endocarditis, an infection of the lining within the heart’s chambers.
If caught early, bacterial endocarditis can result in a positive outcome. However, if treatment is delayed, the infection can cause permanent heart damage and can even lead to a stroke. In Monahan’s case, the delay in treatment did in fact lead to a stroke – the day after he was admitted to Edward Hospital, Monahan suffered from a severe stroke. The stroke left Monahan partially paralyzed on his left side and with permanent cognitive dysfunction.
While at the hospital, Monahan’s physicians diagnosed a bicuspid aortic valve as the underlying cause of his bacterial endocarditis. A bicuspid aortic valve refers to a condition in which the heart’s aortic valve has two leaflets instead of the typical three leaflets. Monahan’s physicians were able to diagnose the condition after noting the presence of a heart murmur and conducting further medical tests.
It was this heart murmur that led Monahan to conclude that Dr. Giordano negligently failed to diagnose his bicuspid aortic valve at a much earlier date. Monahan had a childhood history of a heart murmur and it had presumably been present during the several visits Monahan made to Dr. Giordano’s office during the preceding month. Monahan claimed that if Dr. Giordano had investigated the cause of his heart murmur that Dr. Giordano would have been able to diagnose his bicuspid aortic valve and realize that Monahan was at risk for contracting bacterial endocarditis.
In his defense, Dr. Giordano pointed to the fact that six prior doctors had listened to Monahan’s heart and had not identified his heart murmur or diagnosed his bicuspid aortic valve. In addition, Dr. Giordano testified that Monahan’s symptoms were not specific and did not follow the standard pattern for bacterial endocarditis.
When deciding the medical malpractice lawsuit, the jury debated for a total of 9 ½ hours over a two day period before returning a not guilty verdict in Dr. Giordano’s favor. And while a not guilty verdict typically means that the defendant does not have to pay the plaintiff any damages, in Monahan the defendant doctor will be required to pay the plaintiff $400,000. This is due to the high-low agreement the parties made during the jury deliberations. Dr. Giordano agreed to pay the plaintiff a minimum of $400,000 regardless of the verdict and Monahan agreed not to take any more than $4 million even if the jury awarded a higher amount. Therefore, Monahan will still receive $400,000 even though the jury found in favor of Dr. Giordano.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois medical malpractice matters for more than 35 years for individuals and families in and around Chicago and Cook County, including Joliet, St. Charles, Orland Park, South Holland, Blue Island, and Palatine.
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