Cook County Jury Verdict for Death of Nursing Home Patient for Physician Negligence in Handling Seizure Disorder

On Dec. 13, 2006, Myron Tucker was admitted to a long-term care facility in Oak Lawn, Ill. Tucker was 52 at the time and was wheelchair dependent with impaired memory and judgment. His medical history included a seizure disorder, right-sided stroke with left hemiparesis, a craniotomy and brain surgery for a ruptured aneurysm.

The defendant physician, internist Dr. Neerja Ahlowalia, was assigned to act as Tucker’s attending physician at the long-term care facility or nursing home. On the night of Tucker’s admission, Dr. Ahlowalia telephoned orders for continuation of two anti-seizure medications as listed on the prescription bottles brought to the nursing home with him. The doctor ordered lab tests to be performed in the morning, including blood level testing of one of those medications. However, the lab tests still had not been done when Dr. Ahlowalia saw Tucker a few days later on Dec. 17, 2006.

Dr. Ahlowalia maintained she verbally asked the nursing home nurses to follow her prior order and she made no changes to her admission orders. This is the only time. Dr. Ahlowalia actually saw Tucker in person.

The nursing home records showed that Dr. Ahlowalia was notified by telephone on Dec. 21, 2006 that Tucker had experienced a seizure. However, the nurse that made this note in the chart was never identified. On Jan. 10, 2007, he suffered another seizure, which caused him to fall out of his wheelchair. Dr. Ahlowalia was notified of the fall and ordered stat administration of an oral dose of Dilantin.

However, Tucker was unable to swallow the Dilantin pill and then had another seizure. The nursing home staff again contacted Dr. Ahlowalia who ordered that he be sent to the hospital. Tucker was taken by ambulance to Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park, Ill., and was subsequently transferred to Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

While he was at Rush, a procedure to insert a gastrostomy tube was performed, but it caused a perforation of his stomach. This perforation caused peritonitis.

He died at Rush University Medical Center on Jan. 19, 2007. He was survived by his wife although they had not lived together for more than 7 ½ years before his death. The family of Tucker asserted that Dr. Ahlowalia deviated from the standard of care by choosing not to properly monitor and treat his seizure disorder and failing to appropriately respond when he experienced a seizure, causing him to sustain an intracranial hemorrhage that led to his death.

The nursing home was also sued but was uninsured and never filed an appearance or answer and was later dismissed by the Tucker family during trial. Dr. Ahlowalia maintained her custom and practice was to always send nursing home patients to the hospital when notified of seizures and therefore she was not notified on either Dec. 21, 2006 or prior to the third seizure on Jan. 10, 2007.

The defendant contended that Dr. Ahlowalia’s Dec. 17, 2006 evaluation and order to “continue present management” was within the standard of care. The defendant also maintained that a previous treating neurologist had erroneously completed admission forms to another nursing home by mistakenly listing a lower dose of Dilantin than previously ordered, and the attending physician at Rush should not have elected to proceed with the gastrostomy tube placement rather than continuing feedings by way of a nasal gastric tube until swallow studies could be completed. The defendant also argued that the stomach perforation with resulting infection was the sole proximate cause of the patient’s death.

The judge granted the family’s motion in limine to bar reference to Tucker’s prior 7-year imprisonment for armed robbery, but denied plaintiff’s motion to bar the argument that the G-tube procedure complication was the sole proximate cause of death.

The attorneys representing the Myron Tucker family, Craig L. Manchik and Lynne Plum Duffey, made a demand to settle the case before trial for $500,000. The defendants’ attorneys made no offer before trial or during trial to settle the case.

At the end of closing arguments, the Tucker family’s attorneys asked the jury to return a verdict of $3,127.312.

The jury’s verdict of $627,312 was made up of the following damages.

• $400,000 for pain and suffering;
• $50,000 for disability;
• $50,000 for shortened life expectancy; and
• $127,312 for medical expenses.

At trial, the Tucker family engaged an expert in geriatric medicine to testify on their behalf. The defendants also used a geriatrics physician to testify on Dr. Ahlowalia’s behalf.

Estate of Myron Tucker v. Dr. Neerja Ahlowalia, No. 09 L 250 (Cook County, Ill.).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling medical negligence cases, nursing home negligence cases and birth injury cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of a medical provider for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Inverness, Lockport, Beecher, Brookfield, Rosemont, Northfield, Hillside, Berkeley, Elmhurst, Elk Grove Village, Buffalo Grove, Highland Park, Chicago Ridge, Blue Island, Calumet City, Oak Forest, Chicago (Lawndale, Little Village, Archer Heights, Brighton Park, Wicker Park, Bucktown, Kenwood, Albany Park, Jefferson Park, Stockyards), Melrose Park and Elmwood Park, Ill.

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