U.S. District Court Upholds $6.2 Million Judgment in Medical Negligence Lawsuit for Judgment that was Entered Three Days Before Plaintiff Died

A federal trial judge has upheld a $6.2 million award by the presiding trial judge for a man permanently disabled because of medical negligence at a veteran’s hospital even though the man died three days after the judgment.

Wesley Jordan’s daughter and state administrator, Katherine J. Henry, sued the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) under an agency theory for medical negligence for injuries Jordan sustained from cardiac bypass surgery that went wrong.

Jordan was then 61 years old when he was admitted to Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Administration Hospital in Cook County, Ill., complaining of difficulty breathing and moving.

Several days after his 2015 admission, Jordan was scheduled for a cardiac procedure. A catheter was improperly inserted into his jugular vein, which caused a stroke. Jordan eventually left the hospital profoundly disabled.

The Jordan lawsuit succeeded in a one-week remote bench trial held in January 2021.

Magistrate Judge Gabriel A. Fuentes of the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago entered the judgment in the amount of $6.2 million in damages, which included non-economic damages for past and future pain and suffering over Jordan’s projected 11-year life expectancy.

The court entered the judgment on Oct. 22, 2021, which was three days before Jordan passed away.

The United States moved to vacate the award and requested a new trial under Federal Rule of the Civil Procedure 59. The United States, the defendant, sought to have the judgment amended to reduce the award to $3.6 million. Rule 59 allows litigants to seek a new trial or amendment or altering of a judgment on a motion filed within 28 days of that judgment.

The government argued that Jordan’s death “clearly establishes” that instead of living for 11 years, which was the evidence of his projected life expectancy, he lived only about 6.5 years.

In the written opinion that Judge Fuentes entered denying the defendant’s motion, the judge cited Davis v. Jellico Community Hospital, Inc., 912 F. 2d 129 (6th Cir. 1990) as part of his support for his conclusion that a plaintiff’s death is not a basis for a new damages trial or an amendment to the judgment.

“Allowing judgments to be set aside or changed, with damages awards substantially reduced, because the plaintiff did not cling to life before the 28th day after judgment, or because the trial judge entered judgment a few days into the 28 days after plaintiff’s death and not before, strikes the Court as arbitrary and unfair.”

In the Davis case, the plaintiff in the medical malpractice lawsuit received a jury verdict of $2.5 million but died 33 days after judgment was entered. The defendant’s motion in Davis was rooted in the claim that plaintiff’s death rendered “false” the trial’s evidence of his life span.

Judge Fuentes noted that the 6th Circuit unequivocally concluded that a plaintiff’s death after judgment can never be grounds to disturb that judgment, because to do so would be “to invite a morass of appeals from defendants in cases where the plaintiffs did not survive an ‘acceptable’ amount of time following the entry of final judgment.”

“This Court, could not agree more, as the regime called for by Defendants adds significant uncertainty and arbitrariness to the finality of damages awards. Rules 59 and 60 should not be construed to create a zone of uncertainty in which the prospect of Plaintiff’s possible death, either three days or 364 days after judgment, renders his judgment non-final until the end of the respective Rule 59 and Rule 60 filing.”

Accordingly, the district court held that Jordan’s death three days after judgment was not evidence in existence at the time of the trial or of the judgment.

Katherine J. Henry, et al. v. United States, No. 18 C 2230 (In the Northern District of Illinois).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling wrongful death lawsuits, medical negligence cases, physician negligence lawsuits, and nursing home negligence cases for individuals, families and loved ones who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of a medical provider for more than 45 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Lake Bluff, Waukegan, Round Lake Beach, Grayslake, Schaumburg, Schiller Park, Streamwood, Hanover Park, Melrose Park, Villa Park, Hickory Hills, Evergreen Park, Mokena, Richton Park, Olympia Fields, Homewood, Blue Island, Chicago (South Shore, Chatham, Greater Grand Crossing, Jackson Park, Washington Park, Burnham Park, Little Village, Little Italy, Lakeview, Irving Park, Portage Park, Logan Square, Mont Clare, West Ridge, Edgewater, Lincoln Square, Andersonville), Harwood Heights, Franklin Park, Des Plaines and Morton Grove, Ill.

Robert D. Kreisman has been an active member of the Illinois and Missouri bars since 1976.

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