Illinois Appellate Court Reduces Jury Verdict from $22.1 Million to $7.1 Million After Plaintiff Dies the Night Before Jury’s Verdict

A medical malpractice lawsuit arising from the death of Jeannette Turner first resulted in a jury verdict of $22.1 million in this medical malpractice, wrongful death lawsuit. Sadly, Turner died the night before the jury’s verdict. According to the report of this Illinois Appellate Court case, her death transformed her medical-malpractice lawsuit into a survival claim for Joi Jefferson, Turner’s daughter and the special representative of her estate. As a result, Jefferson was unable to recover compensation that was awarded for any injuries Turner would have suffered in the future.

“Compensatory tort damages are intended to compensate plaintiffs, not to punish defendants,” Justice Mary Anne Mason wrote in the 23-page opinion. “We would run afoul of this principle if we allowed Jeannette’s estate to collect an award for future injuries Jeannette will no longer suffer. For this reason, we limit plaintiff’s recovery to compensation for injuries Jeannette suffered prior to her death.”

Turner had sued Mercy Hospital & Medical Center in 2006 claiming that the hospital’s doctors chose not to care for her after installing a tracheostomy tube in her windpipe. A blood clot developed, causing her to go into respiratory arrest. She suffered serious brain damage after she was without oxygen for 20-25 minutes.

This trial was held in the Circuit Court of Cook County in November and December 2015. On Nov. 30, Turner’s attorney, Stephen Lane, told the jury she had fallen and needed brain surgery. She died the night of Dec. 3, 2015, the night before the jury’s verdict.

The jury, which was deliberating at the time of her death, was never told that Turner had died. The jury signed a verdict for $22.1 million the next day. In July 2016, Cook County Circuit Court judge upheld the verdict despite Turner’s death, calling it a case of first impression.

On appeal, the First District panel noted a “dearth of any Illinois authority” on this point. Jefferson, on appeal, argued in favor of a bright-line rule that would prohibit “post-submission events” from altering any judgment once a case has been submitted to a fact-under.

But the First District panel drew a distinction between bench trials and jury trials. “In a bench trial, case is ripe for judgment when it is submitted to the judge, while in a trial by jury, a case is not ripe for judgment until a verdict is rendered.”

Had Turner’s case been bench tried before the presiding Circuit Court judge and then she had died after it was submitted to the judge for judgment, the judge could have entered it as a nunc pro tunc order dating the court’s judgment to the day it was submitted.

But that cannot be done with a jury trial, because “the earliest date the judgment could have been entered was Dec. 4, the day after Jeannette died.”

Even though the Illinois Appellate Court reduced the verdict significantly, the panel rejected Mercy Hospital’s arguments that Turner failed to prove Mercy’s negligence caused her injury and that the trial court erred in allowing certain testimony that focused on how the blood clot formed.

In addition, Mercy Hospital also wanted to vacate other line items within the jury verdict, like the $2.5 million verdict for future disfigurement. The panel kept the award intact because Turner asked the jury to award her damages for both past and future disfigurement.

“This leaves us with no way to know what portion of the $2.5 million, if any, was attributable to future disfigurement.”

According to one of Turner’s attorneys, Stephen I. Lane, his client will file a petition for leave to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court. In addition, Turner’s estate has also filed a wrongful-death claim against Mercy Hospital. It was reported that the proceedings in that case, the wrongful-death claim, were on hold pending the outcome of the appeal.

With the First District panel upholding the jury’s finding of medical malpractice, all the estate needs to prove in its wrongful-death claim is “that she died because of some injury she sustained as a result of the hospital’s negligence.” This was stated by the attorney handling the appeal for the Turner family, Michael Rathsack. The opinion of the appellate court was unanimous.

Joi Jefferson v. Mercy Hospital & Medical Center, 2018 IL App (1st) 162216.

Kreisman Law Offices has been successfully handling medical malpractice lawsuits, wrongful death cases, birth trauma injury lawsuits, hospital negligence cases and nursing home abuse lawsuits 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 Riverdale, Summit, Hickory Hills, Crestwood, Forest Park, Elk Grove Village, Kenilworth, Lake Forest, Palatine, Prospect Heights, Chicago (Lakewood Balmoral, Albany Park, Gold Coast, Garfield Ridge, Edgebrook, Sauganash, Wrigleyville, Archer Heights, Little Italy, Loyola Park, Morgan Park, Portage Park, Printer’s Row, Roscoe Village, Southport, South Chicago, Ravenswood Manor), Evergreen Park, Niles, Northbrook, Norwood Park and Hinsdale, Ill.

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