As patients, we put our faith in doctors to identify our medical problems and properly treat our ailments. However, in order to achieve a successful doctor-patient relationship, oftentimes doctors need compliance from their patients. Whether by accurately describing our symptoms, or by following up on all of our doctors’ recommendations, as patients we need to be active participants in our own medical treatment. And in medical malpractice cases, juries are reluctant to hold doctors liable for any negligence if the doctors can prove that the patient/plaintiff did not hold up their end of the bargain.
The Illinois wrongful death lawsuit of Estate of Rogers Givens, deceased v. Clarendon Hills Family Practice LLC, et al., 09 L 113, is a perfect example of the importance of actively participating in your own medical care. The decedent, Rogers Givens, began seeing Dr. Hutto, a family practice doctor, for complaints of hypertension, asthma, and eczema. Dr. Hutto prescribed Givens medication to control his hypertension and asthma; however, subjective notes in the medical records indicated that Givens did not always take his medications. His lack of compliance with his medications presumably is why his high blood pressure was never properly controlled.
Almost a year after being placed on the blood pressure and asthma medications, Givens presented to Dr. Hutto with the new complaints of shortness of breath and tightness in his chest when moving. Dr. Hutto attributed these new symptoms to bronchitis and an acute asthma attack and began prescribing treatment for these diagnoses. Following the course of treatment, Givens reported feeling better and testing supported the diagnosis of resolving pneumonia.
However, as a precaution, Dr. Hutto had also recommended on two separate occasions that Givens obtain an echocardiogram. Givens ignored these recommendations and never scheduled these tests. By choosing not to follow his doctor’s instructions, Givens not only put his medical health at risk, but compromised Dr. Hutto’s ability to properly diagnose and treat his medical conditions.
A month after his pneumonia supposedly resolved, Givens presented to a local emergency room complaining of shortness of breath. He needed to be intubated in order to treat his respiratory distress; however, despite the obvious severity of his symptoms, Givens refused the emergency room doctor’s recommendation for admission. Again, Givens went against a doctor’s recommendation at great risk to himself.
While Givens’s wife was able to convince him to return to the emergency room just two hours later, by then it was too late. Givens was still in respiratory distress, but was unable to be ventilated for thirty minutes due to the severe constriction of his airway. During those thirty minutes Givens suffered from irreversible brain damage and died ten months later.
Givens’s wife brought a lawsuit against Dr. Hutto and his practice alleging that he had mismanaged Givens’s medical care. During his final hospital admission, various tests revealed that Givens had been suffering from congestive heart failure and had severely compromised cardiac function. The estate’s medical experts opined that Givens’s uncontrolled hypertension contributed to his hypertension and eventual respiratory failure. The experts further stated that had Dr. Hutto obtained a proper cardiac workup that Givens’s symptoms would have been identified earlier and his eventual intubation could have been avoided.
However, Dr. Hutto and his experts pointed to Givens’s failure to comply with his medical recommendations as the main cause of the circumstances surrounding his death. Furthermore, the defense experts claimed that the medical information available to Dr. Hutto did not indicate that Givens had congestive heart failure. Again, the main defense was that the patient not only did not follow the doctor’s recommendations, but that noncompliance meant that the doctor was not provided with adequate information to properly treat the decedent.
Despite the severe nature of Givens’s injury, i.e., death, the jury seemed reluctant to fault the doctor and his practice for the plaintiff’s wrongful death. It returned a not guilty verdict after just under two hours of deliberation. This jury verdict sends a message to patients about the importance of participating in their medical care. While it is important for patients to challenge their doctor’s recommendations and be an advocate for their own best interest, it is equally important for patients to participate in their own medical care and follow the advice and instructions of their doctors.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois medical malpractice lawsuits for over 35 years, serving those areas in and around Chicago and Cook County, including Inverness, Darien, Wilmette, and Blue Island.
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