Illinois Appellate Court Affirms a Defense Verdict in a Medical-Malpractice Case That Had First Ended With a $3.7 Million Jury Verdict

In May 2001, Michael Hamilton was a worker at the Behr Process Corp. plant in Chicago Heights, Ill., when he began experiencing severe pain.  He was taken by ambulance to St. James Hospital in Chicago Heights, Ill. 

At the hospital, Hamilton was met by Dr. Jose Almeida.  Within a few hours, Hamilton was discharged saying that his pain had ended.  He was instructed to see his primary care physician the next day.  However, the next day Hamilton was found dead in his mother’s apartment.  An autopsy revealed that Hamilton died of pericardia tamponade, which is blood surrounding the heart as a result of an aortic dissection.

The mother of Hamilton, Evelyn Hart, filed a lawsuit in Cook County claiming that the hospital, St. James and Dr. Almeida, as well as the doctor’s employer, Excel Emergency Care LLC, were negligent. 

In the family’s lawsuit, it was alleged that the hospital and Dr. Almeida chose not to diagnose Hamilton’s heart condition correctly, which resulted in his death one day later. 

In a trial that was held in May 2011, the jury returned a verdict of $3,667,792 in favor of Hart. 

However, the post-trial motions brought by the defendants resulted in the verdict being vacated.  The appellate court ruling does not indicate the reason why the verdict was vacated by the trial judge. 

The hospital settled out of court for $75,000 and a new trial began in March 2012 with the remaining defendants.  At the second trial, a co-worker testified that before the ambulance arrived, Hamilton was complaining at work of pain between his chest, back and abdomen and that he felt dizzy.

Nurses testified from their notes that showed that Hamilton discussed stomach pain, but did not mention chest pain or shortness of breath.  The nurses’ notes showed that they gave Hamilton a mix of Mylanta, Donnatal and Lidocaine, which is a gastrointestinal cocktail for pain.  The nurses’ notes also showed that Hamilton vomited after taking this mix of pain medicine, but he felt better afterward. 

Dr. Almeida testified that he did not know Hamilton had an aortic dissection when he was in the emergency room.  Almeida testified that pain from such a condition would not decrease and that Hamilton’s blood pressure, pulse and respiration rate were all normal at the time. 

An X-ray showed Hamilton had an enlarged heart.  Dr. Almeida said at trial that there was nothing to suggest an aortic dissection. 

At this trial, Hart’s expert witness testified that symptoms from an aortic dissection can subside for a period.  The expert also testified that Dr. Almeida violated the standard of care by not taking the history of Hamilton’s symptoms from their onset.

In this trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of both Excel and Dr. Almeida. 

The trial judge denied Hart’s post-trial motions for judgment in her favor notwithstanding the verdict or a new trial.

Hart appealed arguing that the evidence conclusively showed that Dr. Almeida violated the standard of care and therefore Hart would be entitled to a favorable judgment or new trial.  The appellate court disagreed finding that a co-worker’s testimony was inconsistent with other witnesses’ testimonies.  A co-worker had testified that Hamilton described symptoms that were not part of Dr. Almeida’s notes.  The appellate court found that the conflicting evidence presented on the issue whether Dr. Almeida deviated from the standard of care was a fact issue for the jury to decide.  The court would not substitute its judgment for that of the jury.

In addition, there was an issue relating to the defendants’ experts.  They had both given discovery depositions, but the defendant chose to  produce only one at trial.  The trial judge allowed Hart to convert the first doctor’s testimony into an evidence deposition for the second trial, but then opted against it.  Hart argued that the differences in the doctor’s testimony changed the course of the trial and that the jury should have known about the previous testimony.  The appellate court was made up of three justices — two affirming the trial court’s decision and one who dissented and wrote a dissenting opinion. 

Accordingly, the trial judge’s order entering the jury’s verdict in favor of the doctor and his practice was affirmed. 

Evelyn Hart v. Excel Emergency Care, LLC, et al., 2014 IL App. (1st) 122871-U. 

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling medical negligence cases, hospital negligence cases, nursing negligence cases and nursing home abuse cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of a medical provider for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Chicago (Lincoln Park, Wicker Park, Logan Square, Beverly, Stockyards, Canaryville, Bronzeville, Ravenswood, North Park, Albany Park, Irving Park, Humboldt Park, Garfield Park, Washington Park, Hyde Park, Jackson Park, Avalon Park, Calumet Heights), Chicago Heights, Calumet City, Blue Island, Palos Heights, Chicago Ridge, Hickory Hills, Burr Ridge, Western Springs, Countryside and Brookfield, Ill.

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