Illinois Appellate Court Affirms $7.88 Million General Verdict in Medical Negligence/Wrongful Death Lawsuit

On Oct. 5, 2012, the defendant in this case, Dr. Yasser Alhaj-Hussein, completed a celiac plexus block procedure designed to lessen or alleviate the pain that Kathy Arient was experiencing in her abdominal area. The procedure was done at Orland Park Medical Center and involved alcohol inserted into the spine to destroy select nerves.

Following the procedure, Arient complained of numbness in her legs and was taken by ambulance to St. Joseph’s Hospital. It was there that it was determined that she had been rendered paraplegic. Arient and her husband, Terry Arient, filed a lawsuit against Dr. Hussein and other defendants alleging medical negligence in performing the celiac block. The suit also included a claim for loss of consortium.

Unfortunately, Arient died on June 9, 2014. The lawsuit was amended to include a wrongful-death and survival action against both Dr. Hussein and Illinois Anesthesia and Pain Associates and Orland Park Surgical Center. Orland Park Surgical moved to be dismissed as a defendant; the trial judge agreed.

At this jury trial, the Arient family argued that Dr. Hussein was negligent in choosing to do the celiac plexus block with absolute alcohol rather than an anesthetic, and failing to properly perform the block, failing to recommend other treatments, choosing not to test for proper placement with the imaging prior to performing the block and failing to possess privileges to perform the block at a local hospital. The jury found in favor of the Arient family signing a verdict for $7,884,761.76. Dr. Hussein and Illinois Anesthesia and Pain Associates appealed.

On appeal, Dr. Hussein argued that the trial judge erroneously allowed the plaintiff to suggest that Dr. Hussein’s lack of privileges was indicative of negligence. Dr. Hussein argued that the statute requiring that doctors have privileges before performing procedures puts the weight not on the doctors, but on medical facilities, and that, contrary to the testimony of one of Arient’s medical experts, no statute places a duty on the physician to obtain privileges prior to performing a procedure such as the celiac plexus block.

In addition, Dr. Hussein argued that the trial court abused its discretion by prohibiting testimony about Arient’s history of smoking related to the possibility of vasospasm.

The Illinois Appellate Court agreed, supporting Dr. Hussein’s interpretation of the statute, and concluded that the trial judge had erroneously chosen to include evidence of smoking only if it had a “direct correlation” to the case.

The evidence was relevant, but the trial court concluded that the prejudicial effect outweighed its probative value and thus was not admitted into evidence or heard by the jury.

To bar relevant evidence, prejudice must “substantially outweigh” the probative value and “there is nothing in the record that could have supported a finding that evidence of Kathy Arient’s smoking would have induced the jury to decide the case based upon hatred, content, or horror.”

However, the appeals panel noted that the jury in the case returned a general verdict without specifying which allegation of negligence they were approving.

As no special interrogatories were submitted, the appellate court concluded that they have no way of knowing whether Dr. Hussein was found negligent for the privileges, or for the choice of procedure, or for how the procedure was performed, or for his diagnosis.

The general verdict rule mandates that “[i]f several grounds of recovery are pleaded in support of the same claim . . . an entire verdict rendered for that claim shall not be set aside or reversed for the reason that any ground is defective, if one or more of the grounds is sufficient to sustain the verdict.”

Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the trial judge’s decision and the verdict stands.

Arient v. Alhaj-Hussein and Illinois Anesthesia and Pain Associates, S.C., 2017 IL App (1st) 162369 (Feb. 16, 2018).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling medical negligence lawsuits, wrongful death cases and catastrophic injury cases for individuals, families and loved ones who have been injured, harmed or killed by the carelessness or negligence of a medical provider for more than 40 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Lemont, Evergreen Park, Country Club Hills, Countryside, Calumet City, Blue Island, South Holland, Barrington, Chicago (North Lawndale, Wicker Park, Rogers Park, West Rogers Park, Englewood, South Shore, East Side, Jefferson Park, Irving Park, Edgewater), Vernon Hills, Buffalo Grove, Lincolnshire, Lincolnwood, Maywood, Rosemont and Oak Park, Ill.

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