Medical Malpractice Verdict Non-Economic Damages Awarded by Illinois Federal District Court

After reviewing a Cook County medical malpractice lawsuit for non-economic losses, a United States District Court judge for the Northern District of Illinois awarded the plaintiff $6.7 million in non-economic damages. Maldonado v. Sinai Medical Group, No. 06 C 4149 (April 2, 2010).
The Chicago medical malpractice case was brought by a Chicago man who developed paralysis from the waist down after being discharged from Chicago’s Mt. Sinai Hospital with an ongoing spinal infection. While the Chicago hospital had diagnosed the infection and began treating it with IV antibiotics, it discharged the patient before the infection was gone.

Two weeks after his discharge, the Chicago native was unable to control his bladder or walk and was rushed to Rush University Medical Center. The ongoing spinal infection had continued to eat away at the man’s vertebrae, which resulted in the removal of portions of his spine and ribs. The plaintiff underwent six surgeries during three months of hospitalization and was left paralyzed from the waist down.

The plaintiff brought a medical malpractice claim against the employees of Chicago’s Mt. Sinai Hospital. However, because the hospital’s employees were agents of the U.S. Public Health Service the Cook County medical malpractice case fell under the Federal Tort Claims Act. According to rules of the Act, the federal government was substituted for the hospital and its workers in the medical malpractice claim. The federal government admitted liability on behalf of the hospital. Therefore the only remaining issue for the judge to rule on was non-economic damages.

Non-economic damages include such considerations as loss of life, pain and suffering, and disability. Plaintiff had requested $12.5 million in non-economic damages, which broke down into $1 million for a 3-year reduction in his life expectancy, $4 million for pain and suffering; and $7.5 million for his permanent disability.

Plaintiff had supported its claims for non-economic damages with testimony by a medical expert. This expert determined that the plaintiff’s paraplegia reduced his life expectancy by three years, a claim that was not disputed by the defendant. The pain and suffering claim was related to the numerous surgeries, lengthy hospitalization, and plaintiff’s continued pain as a result of the defendant’s negligence. The permanent disability claim related to the effects the plaintiff’s paraplegia will continue to have on his ability to care for himself, to care for his family, and to partake in his previous activities.

When considering awards for non-economic damages, the court laid out two criteria to consider when justifying its decision. First, the court must consider the non-economic damages awarded in similar cases and use those as a guide when making its own decision. However, in addition to looking at the amounts in those cases, the court must also consider whether its final award meets an appropriate ratio of economic damages to non-economic damages.

The defense submitted five similar Illinois cases submitted for the courts review, with the non-economic damages ranging from $0.5 million and $8 million. The court felt that Maldonado fell within the high end of this scale based on not only the severity of the injury, but also the drastic change to this previously vibrant and active individual’s lifestyle. The court awarded a non-economic loss of $6.7 million to the plaintiff. The breakdown was as follows: $450,000 for a three-year reduction in life expectancy (calculated at $150,000 per year), $2 million for pain and suffering, and $4.25 million for his ongoing disability.

The court also ensured that the non-economic damages met an appropriate ratio in terms of economic damages. Both parties agreed that the economic damages for plaintiff’s past and future medical care was $1,630,182.00. Therefore the final award of $6.7 million for non-economic damages represented about 4.2 times the total for the plaintiff’s economic damages. This ratio was consistent with similar Illinois medical malpractice cases. In its decision the court acknowledged that placing a numerical value on one’s non-economic losses and thereby “qualifying the harm he has suffered . . . in financial terms is awkward, but a financial remedy is the only one available under law.”

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Chicago medical malpractice lawsuits for over 37 years, serving those areas in and around Cook County, including Chicago, Cicero, Buffalo Grove, and Bolingbrook.

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