Jury Awards $125,000 for Toxic Dose of Lithium

The patient-physician relationship is built on trust — the patient trusts that his or her doctor is acting within the standard of care and the physician trusts that the patient is following orders. In this Illinois medical malpractice case, both parties argued that the other violated this mutual trust. The plaintiff argued that the defendant doctor acted negligently, while the doctor argued that the plaintiff failed to follow his medical advice.

The case arose after the 19-year-old plaintiff developed lithium toxicity. The defendant psychiatrist, Dr. John Huh, had prescribed the plaintiff lithium for her bipolar disorder.This in itself was not unusual. Lithium is often prescribed to treat patients with bipolar disorder due to its ability to reduce the frequency and severity of bipolar depression.

However, lithium carries with it some fairly serious side effects, including muscle weakness, sudden hair loss, poor concentration, drowsiness, vomiting, and diarrhea. In order to prevent these serious side effects, physicians regularly monitor the levels of lithium in a patient’s blood stream, adjusting the dosage as necessary. However, in this case, Dr. Huh failed to obtain regular blood draws, thereby missing the warning signs that the plaintiff was developing lithium toxicity.

The plaintiff brought a medical malpractice lawsuit against Dr. Huh, in which she claimed he not only failed to obtain the necessary blood draws, but also missed the signs and symptoms of lithium toxicity during several weeks of psychiatry visits. The plaintiff lost her hair, developed tremors in her hands and experienced stomach problems. These symptoms continued for approximately eight weeks before resulting in her hospitalization. In addition to the medical damages, the plaintiff claimed that her ordeal caused her to lose trust in psychiatry.

In his response, Dr. Huh argued that the fault for the plaintiff’s toxicity lied not with him, but with the plaintiff herself. Dr. Huh testified that after he increased her lithium dose he gave her prescription orders to have blood drawn a total of five times. However, the plaintiff failed to follow through with these orders. Dr. Huh also disputed the plaintiff’s claims that she exhibited signs and symptoms of her lithium toxicity at her weekly psychiatry visits. He concluded by stating that he had complied with the standard of care and had monitored the plaintiff’s clinical state at each visit, but had failed to note any indications of lithium toxicity.

The plaintiff’s medical experts responded to Dr. Huh’s claims by arguing that her bipolar disorder condition caused memory loss, which in turn prevented her from complying with Dr. Huh’s orders for blood draws. The plaintiff’s experts further argued that Dr. Huh should have been aware of this memory loss based on his prior treatment and care of the plaintiff. The plaintiff’s attorney asked the jury to award her $535,116 in damages for Dr. Huh’s medical negligence, a demand that was over double their prior offer to settle of $250,000.

After deliberating for four and a half hours, the jury returned a $125,000 verdict against Dr. Huh. This verdict was composed of $100,000 for pain and suffering and $25,000 for loss of normal life. In addition to the medical malpractice verdict against Dr. Huh, the plaintiff also received a $28,500 settlement from the hospital prior to the Dr. Huh trial.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois medical malpractice matters for individuals and families for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and surrounding areas, including Hillside, Melrose Park, Orland Park, Evanston, Winnetka, Arlington Heights, Kenilworth, LaGrange, Tinley Park, Downers Grove, Prospect Heights, and Des Plaines.

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