Illinois Jury Verdict for Doctor in Spinal Tumor Case, Patient Missed Appointment; Brooks v. Dr. Gulati

In many medical malpractice lawsuits, plaintiffs are critical of physicians for failing to make proper referrals or diagnose a condition in a timely fashion. However, if the patient does not keep appointments or take some responsibility in their own care, then it is difficult to find fault with the physician.

In the Illinois medical malpractice case of Melissa Brooks, Loren Brooks v. Surendra Gulati, M.D., 08 L 838, the plaintiff was critical of her physician, Dr. Gulati, for failing to diagnose a vascular tumor in her spine. Brooks first presented to Dr. Gulati in January 2002, at which point she relayed that she had been having back pain, tingling, and numbness for the past several months.

In response to these complaints, Dr. Gulati referred Ms. Brooks for an MRI of her lumbar and thoracic spine. He then conveyed the radiology results to her over the phone – the report suggest a possible arterial venous malformation, or a possible benign spinal tumor. In order to follow up on these findings, Dr. Gulati claimed he ordered an additional MRI of Ms. Brooks’s brain and scheduled a follow up appointment.

However, the 27 year-old Brooks did not follow through with the additional brain MRI, nor did she show up for her scheduled visit with Dr. Gulati. This missed visit was at the center of Brooks – the plaintiff contended that Dr. Gulati should have contacted her after the missed appointment, whereas Dr. Gulati contended that he had acted within the standard of care and was not responsible for making sure Ms. Brooks kept her appointments.

It was not until over two years later that Ms. Brooks’s vascular tumor was finally diagnosed. Given the severity of her condition, Ms. Brooks required two surgeries at Loyola University Medical Center to remove the tumor and was left with incontinence, permanent paraparesis, and now requires a cane to walk.

In her trial testimony, Ms. Brooks stated that when Dr. Gulati told her about the results of her initial MRIs that he indicated there was nothing to worry about. It was because of this conversation that she failed to seek additional medical attention. Ms. Brooks testified that she was not aware of how severe her medical condition was, nor was she aware that she would need to follow up with a neurosurgeon.

Brooks’s complaint accused Dr. Gulati of medical negligence in his failure to properly convey the severity of her condition and the importance of seeking additional care. Likewise, the plaintiff argued that either Dr. Gulati or his office should have contacted Ms. Brooks after she missed her follow up appointment.

In his defense, Dr. Gulati presented his office notes which summarized the phone conversation in which he informed Ms. Brooks of her MRI results. He maintained that he had met the standard of care both during that conversation and in his later actions. Specifically, Dr. Gulati contended that the standard of medical care did not require his office to contact Ms. Brooks after she had missed her follow up appointment.

Likewise, Dr. Gulati opined that even if Ms. Brooks had seen a neurosurgeon in 2002, that she most likely would not have opted for back surgery to remove the tumor. At the time her symptoms were likely not severe enough to warrant the serious risks the surgery presented to her spinal column. Therefore, Dr. Gulati maintained that even if Ms. Brooks had followed up with him and seen a neurosurgeon, it was unlikely that she would have undergone the same course of treatment she received in 2004.

The jury seemed to agree with Dr. Gulati and entered a not guilty verdict. However, because the plaintiff and defendant had entered into a high/low agreement prior to the jury entering its verdict, the plaintiff still was able to recover some of her damages. The high/low agreement was set at a low of $175,000 and a high of $1 million, i.e., regardless of the jury verdict, the parties agreed to a minimum payout of $175,000 and a maximum payout of $1 million. So even though the jury awarded the plaintiff nothing, she still was able to recover $175,000 from Dr. Gulati.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois medical malpractice cases for individuals and families for more than 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Naperville, Park Forest, Glen Ellyn, and Cicero.

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