$215,000 Cook County Jury Verdict for Delayed Diagnosis and Treatment of Hand Infection; Hebel v. Illinois Bone & Joint Institute, LLC


Fifty-year-old Dan Hebel suffered a rope burn while on a fishing trip in August 2004. Eventually he was referred to an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Craig Williams, at Illinois Bone & Joint Institute in Morton Grove.He first complained of an infectious process in his hand on August 23, 2004.One week later, Dr. Williams gave Hebel a steroid injection.The injection, however, caused the infection to worsen.

In this lawsuit, Hebel contended that the steroid injection was contraindicated by the underlying infection. Dr. Williams referred Hebel to Dr. Robert Citronberg for infectious disease management. Drs. Williams and Citronberg became co-treating physicians. Sometimes infections like this require antibiotic treatment and/or surgical involvement.

On November 9, 2004, Dr. Williams performed an incision and drainage procedure. Specimens from the surgery were sent for study and cultures. The pathology results were sent to both physicians, but the culture results were sent only to Dr. Williams and never sent to Dr. Citronberg.

Other surgical specimens were sent for culturing on November 18, 2004 and on January 14, 2005. Dr. Williams received the November 9 culture reports on December 12, December 15 and December 17; these indicated the growth of a rare bacteria. Dr. Williams did not provide these results to Dr. Citronberg and chose not to review the December 17, 2004 report altogether.

Instead Dr. Citronberg treated the plaintiff for a fungus that grew from the November 18 specimen.Eventually, the January 14, 2005 specimen tested positive for acid fast bacilli, showing Dr. Citronberg that the plaintiff likely had Mycobacterium marinum.As a result, there was a 44-day lapse in the diagnosis and antibiotic treatment for this particular infection. It was alleged that the delay caused the worsening of the infection.

Hebel was then hospitalized for one week at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where he underwent three debridement surgeries to his left hand, followed by five months of physical therapy and long-term intravenous antibiotic treatment for the infection that had set in.

Hebel’s hand now lacks full range of motion with an inability to fully open the fingers or make a tight fist. He has what is known as a trigger finger and has surgical scars. His hand is now extremely sensitive to temperature.

Today, the plaintiff is unable to enjoy golfing, fishing and skeet-shooting.The plaintiff’s infectious disease expert testified at trial that there was a 75% chance that the three debridement surgeries at Mayo Clinic would have been unnecessary if the December 2004 culture reports had been acted upon in a timely manner.

The defendant argued that Dr. Williams saw no evidence of infection at the time of the first office visit, which followed a 10-day course of antibiotics. Plaintiff still had inflammation one week later, but no signs of active infection. The records also showed no worsening of the hand condition. Dr. Williams sent Hebel to Dr. Citronberg on September 29, 2004 when a second fishing trip led to a flare-up of the infection.

Dr. Williams also contended that he instructed the circulating nurse during the November 9, 2004 procedure at the surgery center to have all lab results sent to both himself and Dr. Citronberg. Different labs performed the pathology and culture results. Dr. Williams believed that the nurse had carried out his order when he saw both doctors’ names on the pathology reports. Dr. Citronberg allegedly phoned Dr. Williams on November 29 to say that he had spoken with the lab about the November 18 specimen that was growing a fungus. Dr. Williams claimed he did not know the lab had failed to send the culture reports to Dr. Citronberg in mid-December, so he did not believe he needed to send those results.

Dr. Williams also maintained that Dr. Citronberg’s partner started treatment for the bacterial infection on November 18, but Dr. Citronberg took Hebel off the treatment for the rare bacterial infection on December 6 after the fungal results came back.

Hebel was represented by attorney Benjamin Nichols.The jury was asked to return a verdict of $551,801.There was no offer to settle the case made by Dr. Williams and his practice group before trial.

The jury’s verdict of $215,000 was made up of the following damages:

  • $100,000 for pain and suffering;
  • $50,000 for loss of normal life;
  • $10,000 for disfigurement;
  • $30,000 for medical expenses;
  • $25,000 for lost income or benefits.

Before trial, a co-defendant, Golf Surgical Center, which was the place where the hand surgery was done, settled with Hebel for $200,000.

Hebel v. Illinois Bone & Joint Institute, LLC, et al. 2011 L 1007 (Cook County)

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling medical negligence cases and nursing home abuse cases and personal injury matters for individuals and families for more than 37 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Melrose Park, Mundelein, Glenview, Homewood, Tinley Park, Evanston, Chicago (Albany Park), Chicago (Bridgeport), Chicago (Canaryville), Crestwood and Park Ridge, Ill.

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