Illinois Appellate Court Orders New Trial in Wrongful Death Case Where Sister of Decedent Testified About Family Medical History

On April 29, 2004, 36-year-old Tamara Greico sprained her ankle during a bowling match. She was diagnosed in the emergency room of a hospital with a severe ankle sprain. She had wrapped it and was given crutches and told to keep her ankle elevated before being referred to an Alton, Ill., clinic.

The physician’s assistant and medical assistant at the clinic testified at the jury trial that they saw Tamara the next day and made a similar diagnosis while also giving her a walking boot, medication and instruction for exercising the ankle. Tamara returned to the clinic on May 5, 2004 complaining of more pain and numbness in her toes. A physician and one of the defendants, Dr. Bruce Vest, testified that he examined her and considered the possibility that she had a deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot, but ruled it out and did not order anticoagulant therapy.

Two days later, Tamara’s employer found her lying on the ground near her car in the office parking lot, lapsing in and out of consciousness. She was taken to the hospital where she complained of breathing problems before going into cardiac arrest.

The doctors tried to resuscitate her for more than an hour, but she was pronounced dead that evening. An autopsy found that Tamara died from blood clots blocking arteries in her lungs.

Tamara’s family filed a lawsuit against the clinic in February 2011 arguing that the staff’s negligence in treating the ankle injury was a proximate cause of her death.

Tamara’s sister, Karen Dover, was listed as a witness for the clinic and had said during her deposition in 2008 that she didn’t know if Tamara had any clotting issues or if her family had a history of them. But a few days after the trial started, Dover told the defendants’ lawyers that she had been diagnosed with carotid artery disease, a narrowing of the passageway that supplies blood to the brain.

When the defense attorneys told the plaintiff’s lawyers about the information, the Greico family lawyers made an oral motion away from the jury’s earshot to prevent Dover from testifying about that condition, saying that it wasn’t disclosed in time to be included in her testimony and that it was hearsay because it was a recounting of her doctor’s out-of-court statement and opinion.

The defendants argued that they disclosed the diagnosis as soon as they heard about it and that the testimony was important for understanding why Tamara had died.

The trial judge denied the plaintiff’s motion to bar the testimony. Dover was allowed to testify about her own diagnosis during the trial and claimed that her family had a history of blood clots and that her condition was a blood clotting disorder among other things. The jury found in favor of the clinic and the doctor.

However, the decision issued by the Illinois Appellate Court wrote that allowing Dover’s testimony on the diagnosis was prejudicial. “Dover was not qualified to provide opinions regarding the nature of her diagnosis and its attendant risks, and the accuracy and reliability of her testimony rested upon the credibility of a person not before the court and not subject to cross-examination,” the court wrote.

Additionally, her testimony conflicted with that of some of the witnesses who were actually qualified to offer medical opinions on the case, the court noted.

“At trial, all of the experts were aware of the medical history of the decedent and her family, all testified that a personal history of a clotting disorder and a family history of a clotting disorder are recognized risk factors for the development of a (deep vein thrombosis), and all agreed that those risk factors were not present in the decedent’s case.” The opinion written by Justice Judith Cates was joined by the other two appellate justices in the decision.

The court thus reversed the verdict of the jury and remanded the case for a new trial based on this opinion.

James J. Greico v. Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Clinic, P.C., Bruce T. Vest, M.D., et al., 2015 IL App (5th) 130370.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling medical negligence cases, birth injury cases, nursing home abuse cases and hospital negligence 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 Elmhurst, Elk Grove Village, South Holland, Worth, Alsip, Blue Island, Grayslake, Gurnee, Cary, Richton Park, Long Grove, Chicago (Kenwood, Hyde Park, Chinatown, Little Italy, Hegewisch, East Side), Lincolnwood and Buffalo Grove, Ill.

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