Illinois Appellate Court Reverses Discovery Order in Wrongful Death Medical Malpractice Lawsuit Relying On the Medical Studies Act

On May 13, 2015, Millicent Mnookin suffered a sudden drop in oxygen followed by cardiac arrest while she was under general anesthesia for surgery at Northwest Community Hospital. She was taken to an intensive care unit but died just two weeks later.

Mnookin’s husband, Barry Mnookin, who was appointed executor of her estate, filed a lawsuit against several defendants, including Northwest Community Hospital and Dr. Syed Ahmed, who had been her anesthesiologist. The lawsuit alleged negligence by Dr. Ahmed as an employee of Northwest Community Hospital.

During the discovery process, her husband’s attorney sent Northwest Community Hospital requests for production of documents. The hospital filed a privilege log, identifying 24 documents that it asserted were privileged and protected from discovery under the Medical Studies Act. He moved for an in-camera inspection of all of the allegedly privileged documents. In response, the trial court asked Northwest Community to “redact the portion of each privileged document for which [Northwest] claimed privileged.” Northwest redacted the entire text of every document, leaving only the printed headline.

Affidavits from Northwest employees swore that the documents were peer reviews related to quality control and patient safety. As a result, they claimed that the documents were privileged under the Illinois Medical Studies Act.

The trial court ordered disclosure of 17 of the 24 documents with Mnookin conceding that the remaining 7, which represent minutes from quality control meetings on Millicent Mnookin’s case, were privileged.

Northwest refused to comply. The trial court found the hospital in civil content and rendered a $100 per day sanction against it, later reduced to $500 total, to be “purged upon the production of documents within 35 days.” Northwest appealed.

The Medical Studies Act provides that:

“All information, interviews, reports, statements, memoranda, recommendations, letters of reference or other third party confidential assessments of a health care practitioner’s professional competence, or other data of . . . committees of licensed or accredited hospitals or their medical staffs, . . . or their designees (but not the medical records pertaining to the patient), used in the course of internal quality control or of medical study for the purpose of reducing morbidity or mortality, or for improving patient care . . . shall be privileged, strictly confidential[.]”

Section 8-2102 of the Illinois Medical Studies Act further makes explicit that privileged material “shall not be admissible as evidence nor discoverable in any action of any kind in any court.” This Act preserves the ability of physicians to give candid feedback and evaluation for patient care and quality improvement without making them legally liable.

The appeals panel reviewed each of the documents alleged as privileged. The appellate court looked at quality management worksheets, reports to the Joint Commission (a medical society that reviews and accredits numerous hospitals) and root cause analysis documents. The panel found that all the documents qualified as privileged because the purpose of each document was explicitly to review the patient care and try to find ways to improve patient outcomes and reduce morbidity and mortality for patients.

The appellate court acknowledged the trial court’s concern that information valuable and relevant to Mnookin may have been submitted to the various internal committees and then deemed “privileged.”

The appeals panel noted that there was no effort by Northwest Community Hospital to unduly protect the requested information from discovery. Accordingly, the appellate court reversed the trial judge’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings in line with this opinion.

Barry Mnookin, as Independent Executor of the Estate of Millicent E. Mnookin v. Northwest Community Hospital, Syed Ahmed, MD, et al., 2018 IL App (1st) 171107 (July 27, 2018).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling medical malpractice lawsuits, hospital negligence cases, physician negligence lawsuits and wrongful death 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 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Palatine, Palos Hills, Barrington, South Holland, Warrenville, Winfield, Joliet, Bolingbrook, Aurora, St. Charles, Hinsdale, Wilmette, Bridgeview, Crestwood, Forest Park, Riverdale, Western Springs, Chicago (Morgan Park, Logan Square, Little Village, Little Italy, Jefferson Park, Jackson Park, Hyde Park, Wrigleyville, Uptown, Streeterville, South Loop, West Town, Bucktown, Chinatown), Deerfield, Buffalo Grove, Gurnee and River Forest, Ill.

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