A Cook County jury found in favor of the estate of a 52 year-old Illinois woman who died of sepsis and multi-organ failure during her admission to Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, Illinois. The estate claimed that Illinois medical negligence occurred when the hospital failed to recognize and respond to the decedent’s early signs and symptoms of sepsis, which led to her ultimate demise. The jury awarded $500,000 against the hospital in Estate of Hackl v. Advocate Health & Hospitals Corp., et al., 08 L 7880, an Illinois medical malpractice case that highlights the disastrous effects that can occur when there is a communication breakdown in a hospital setting.
The decedent presented to the emergency room at Good Shepherd Hospital, a hospital in Chicago’s northwest suburbs that is affiliated with Advocate Health Care. At the time she was complaining of vomiting and generalized weakness. An emergency room physician noted that she had low levels of potassium and administered potassium and general fluids. In addition, her fingers and toes were blue during the initial examination. While the decedent did improve after receiving the fluids, she was still not ready to be discharged.
A complete blood count (CBC) was also ordered while the patient was in the ER, which revealed elevated band levels and low platelet counts. These abnormal lab results can indicate an infection; however, these results were not noted in the admitting physician’s hospital notes. The attending physician, Dr. Small, had treated the plaintiff for many years and was familiar with her medical history, including the placement of a cardiac pacemaker, cardiomyopathy, renal failure, eczema, and a lumbar fusion that required her to take narcotic medications for pain.
The following morning Dr. Small ordered a repeat of the decedent’s blood work, which is a common practice when earlier lab values are abnormal, as in the decedent’s case. However, the lab results were not available before Dr. Small departed for the evening. After Dr. Small’s departure, his patients were covered by another doctor who received updates on the patients’ conditions based on telephone reports from the hospital nurses. In the decedent’s case, they reported that she was experiencing increased pain, most notably in her extremities.
When Dr. Small took the decedent’s care over the next morning, he only noted that she was improving and could resume her regular diet. No notes were made or mention of the results of the second CBC in the hospital chart. Nor was there any indication that they had been referenced in Dr. Small’s diagnosis. The next morning, the decedent went into septic shock and was diagnosed with a staph infection. Despite a transfer to the hospital’s ICU, the patient died of sepsis and multi-organ failure within days.
In its Illinois medical malpractice claim, the decedent’s estate claimed that the hospital was negligent mainly because no doctor or nurse had looked at the blood work and noted that the decedent was displaying signs and symptoms of sepsis. The delay of diagnosis of almost 44 hours was critical in her case; an earlier diagnosis could have made the difference between life and death. The decedent’s complaint alleged that the hospital and its doctors breached the acceptable standard of care by choosing not to follow up on the blood tests results, failing to recognize the signs and symptoms of infection, and failing to timely administer the antibiotics.
The estate further blamed the hospital and its lab for failing to report the lab results and significant findings of the infection to the multiple physicians treating the decedent. Dr. Small’s attorneys further argued that the CBC results, including the abnormal bands and platelet counts, were not available to him on the first two days of the patient’s admission. Dr. Small’s attorneys also attempted to suggest that the decedent’s signs and symptoms were not consistent with sepsis. However, the jury did not agree with these facts and entered a guilty verdict against Dr. Small, finding him solely responsible for the medical negligence decedent’s death. The hospital and its staff were not found guilty by the jury, nor was the other physician who had briefly treated the decedent.
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