What Constitutes Medical Malpractice? Illinois Supreme Court Clarifies Definition in Kaufmann v. Jersey Community Hospital

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled as to the statute of limitations regarding the Illinois lawsuit of Kristen Kaufmann v. Roger A. Schroeder, M.D., Jersey Community Hospital, a municipal corporation, et al., No. 109738. While the plaintiff argued that she had filed her claim well within the two year statute, the Illinois Supreme Court held that she had failed to meet the actual one year statute of limitations. The deciding factor of whether or not it was a one or two year statute dealt with whether or not Kaufmann’s claim was considered an Illinois medical malpractice lawsuit.

The facts surrounding Kaufmann involved allegations that the plaintiff woke up after being sedated to find her physician licking her breasts. The complaint also contended that not only had her OB-GYN, Dr. Roger Schroeder, committed sexual assault against Kaufmann, but that he had unnecessarily sedated her in order to do so.

Kaufmann had presented to Jersey Community Hospital under Dr. Schroeder’s care for treatment of an urinary tract infection and was told that she needed to be sedated for the procedure; she later discovered that this was not true. As a result of Dr. Schroeder’s actions, Kaufmann filed a complaint not only against the doctor, but also against Jersey Community Hospital, the hospital employing him.

As a municipal entity, legal claims against Jersey Community Hospital are subject to a one year statute of limitation. This means that unless a lawsuit is filed against Jersey Community within one year from the date of the occurrence, then that specific lawsuit is barred from going forward. The one exception to the one year statute is if the lawsuit arises out of medical negligence, in which case there is a two year statute. Kaufmann argued that she was entitled to this two year statute because her claim “arises out of patient care,” as defined by Section 8-101(b) of the Local Governmental and Employee Tort Immunity Act.

Both the trial court and Illinois Appellate Court dismissed Kaufmann’s complaint, citing its filing beyond the one year statute of limitations. Kaufmann appealed these decisions to the Illinois Supreme Court; however, the court upheld the lower courts’ rulings. In its decision, the Illinois Supreme Court held that Kaufmann was not in fact a medical malpractice lawsuit because the claims did not arise out of any medical treatment that she received. Therefore, it held that Kaufmann did not qualify for the two year statute.

However, there was a dissenting opinion by Chief Justice Kilbride and Justice Garman, both of whom felt that Kaufmann should have been qualified as a medical malpractice lawsuit and therefore been subject to a two year statute. The basis for this was prior Illinois case law has the tendency to broadly define what constitutes medical negligence as “arising out of patient care.” The dissenting opinion felt that to some degree the sexual assault arose out of Kaufmann’s medical care; had she not been treated by Dr. Schroeder, she would not have been assaulted.

The dissenting opinion went on to state that Kaufmann was injured by her own doctor, not some random doctor or patient who came upon her in the hospital. In this way, Kaufmann was not the victim of a random criminal act. Rather, she was unnecessarily sedated by Dr. Schroeder and then taken advantage of. Kaufmann was violated by her own physician, with whom she consulted regarding her care.

Yet this was not the way the majority of the Illinois Supreme Court viewed Kaufmann. In fact, the fact that the sedation itself was unnecessary seemed to support the court’s view that her injury was not the result of patient care. If the sedation was merely a ruse to assault Kaufmann, then it was not real patient care and therefore could not be a part of a medical malpractice lawsuit. The court felt that by adopting this stance it was keeping with the legal precedent and refused to broaden the definition of “patient care”. As a result, Kaufmann will be dismissed because it was not filed within the required time frame, not because it lacks legal merit.

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois medical malpractice cases for individuals and families for more than 35 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Highwood, Des Plaines, Elmhurst, Naperville, and Park Forest.

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