Federal Wrongful Death Medical Malpractice Lawsuit is Dismissed Holding Attending Physician Not Vicariously Liable

The family of a man who died of a heart attack while hospitalized after an appendectomy was held not to have a viable medical malpractice case against the attending physician.

In July 2017, Timothy Dobine, 43, died while under the care of medical staff at West Suburban Medical Center in Oak Park, Ill. Dobine’s family sued in state and federal court.

The family sued the U.S. government under the Federal Torts Claim Act alleging that the attending physician, Dr. Morgan Madison, who worked for a federally qualified healthcare center, provided negligent medical care and was the proximate cause of Dobine’s untimely death.

In a written opinion, U.S. District Court Judge Steven C. Seeger of the Northern District of Illinois granted summary judgment in favor of the government. The Court concluded that the estate has not come forward with sufficient evidence to support a finding by a reasonable jury that Dr. Madison provided negligent care. “Based on the record, no reasonable jury could return a verdict in the estate’s favor,” Judge Seeger wrote.

Dobine was brought to West Suburban Medical Center in July 2017 after vomiting a few times and complaining that his stomach burned. Dobine was admitted under the care of Dr. Madison, but the doctor was not present at the hospital at the time.

The next morning, doctors at the hospital thought that Dobine’s symptoms sounded like appendicitis. He was taken into surgery. While in surgery, the surgeon discovered that Dobine’s appendix looked normal, but he removed it anyway. It is apparently routine to do this in order to prevent issues in the future, the opinion noted.

Shortly after surgery, the nurse found Dobine in the bathroom, unresponsive. He was taken to the intensive care unit, where the medical staff administered CPR.

Dobine was then intubated in the ICU. A few days later, after a second surgery, Dobine unfortunately passed away. Dr. Madison was not one of the physicians caring for Dobine at that time. He was cared for by other doctors and residents.

Tina Dobine, a sister and special administrator of the Estate of Dobine, brought the medical negligence lawsuit in state and federal court, alleging that Dobine died from an “untreated postoperative bleed, which led to cardiac arrest.” The estate sought to hold the United States accountable under the Federal Torts Claims Act because Dr. Madison is deemed to be a federal employee. Judge Seeger noted that under Illinois law, an attending physician cannot be held vicariously liable for the negligence of a resident under her supervision, citing Lewis v. OSF Healthcare Sys, 2022 WL 5240557.

Judge Seeger pointed out that a doctor is responsible for his or her own negligence, not the negligence of another doctor. The opinion of Judge Seeger concluded that in order for the estate to bring a negligence claim against Dr. Madison, it would have had to offer evidence that is “sufficient to support a finding by a reasonable jury that Dr. Madison herself was negligent” in Dobine’s death.

As Dr. Madison had “relatively little” involvement with Dobine, despite her status as a treating physician, Judge Seeger noted that any claim against Dr. Madison faced “an uphill battle.” There is no factual or case law that would support the plaintiff’s theory that a physician must be in attendance at the hospital at all times for their patients.

“And for good reason – that standard is not achievable, given the limitations of space and time,” Judge Seeger wrote. “Illinois does not require doctors to reside at the hospital and care for patients 24/7, 365 days of the year.”

It was found by the court that Dr. Madison had no information about a problem at an important time and sat on that information without taking affirmative steps to remedy it. In conclusion, the Federal District Court dismissed this lawsuit, granting summary judgment in favor of the United States. Counsel for the estate stated that this case represented a “very small part of the overall litigation, which is going forward in state court.”

Dobyne v. United States of America, No. 20-cv-03594.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling wrongful death lawsuits, medical negligence cases, hospital negligence lawsuits and physician negligence cases for individuals, families and loved ones who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of a medical provider for more than 48 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Cicero, Forest Park, Melrose Park, Park Forest, Crestwood, Western Springs, Northlake, Rosemont, Park Ridge, Prospect Heights, Rolling Meadows, Palatine, Wheeling, Vernon Hills, Lake Bluff, Chicago (Jefferson Park, Lincoln Square, West Ridge, Lakeview, Logan Square, Hermosa, West Town, River North, Near Northside, South Loop, Back of the Yards, Englewood, Avondale, Brighton Park, Auburn Gresham, Calumet Heights), Oak Lawn, Hickory Hills, Chicago Ridge, Blue Island, Dolton and Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.

Robert D. Kreisman has been an active member of the Illinois and Missouri bars since 1976.

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