Lawyers at DBMS successfully litigate a wide variety of civil cases and argue appeals in some of the most challenging jurisdictions in the country.

Appellate

DBMS Obtains Reversal of Appellate Court Decision and Reinstatement of Jury Verdict in Favor of Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Clinic

01/22/2021
Client:

Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Clinic

Outcome:

Reversal of appellate decision and reinstatement of judgment for the defense

Synopsis:

In a medical malpractice case, DBMS appellate attorneys obtained reversal of an appellate decision that vacated a judgment entered on a jury verdict for the clinic.  In a wrongful death action plaintiff filed on behalf of her deceased husband, plaintiff alleged an orthopedic surgeon of the clinic failed to diagnose and treat a deep vein thrombosis (“DVT”) in plaintiff’s husband’s leg before he died of a pulmonary embolism originating from the DVT. Plaintiff also charged the clinic with institutional negligence for scheduling the patient’s follow up appointment more than two weeks after placement of a cast on his lower leg, in what plaintiff claimed violated the clinic’s  procedures and the defendant physician’s order, resulting in the sudden death of the patient before he returned for examination by the physician. After a trial involving conflicting expert testimony regarding the defendants’ compliance with the standard of care and proximate causation, a jury returned verdicts for both the physician and the clinic.

Challenging only the judgment for the clinic, on appeal plaintiff asked for judgment notwithstanding the verdict against the clinic and a new trial limited to the calculation of damages, or, alternatively, a new trial on all issues. The appellate court granted plaintiff the relief she sought on the basis that, in the appellate court’s view, plaintiff had proved the clinic violated its duty when a receptionist scheduled the follow up appointment beyond the timeframe directed by the physician. The appellate court categorized the expert testimony defending the clinic’s conduct as pertaining only to the physician. Despite conflicting expert testimony on the subject of causation, the appellate court also held that plaintiff had proved proximate causation as a matter of law. The appellate court remanded the case to the trial court for a new trial limited to the calculation of damages.

DBMS was retained to seek review of the appellate court’s ruling. Petitioning the Illinois Supreme Court, a DBMS appellate team argued that the appellate court’s decision represented a drastic change in Illinois law, by eliminating a wide variety of evidence – including expert testimony and community practice – from the determination of institutional liability; the appellate panel had focused exclusively on whether the clinic violated an internal policy. DBMS also argued that the appellate court ignored ample evidence supporting the clinic’s proximate causation defenses and departed in its causation analysis from decades of precedent mandating respect for jury verdicts.

The supreme court granted the petition for leave to appeal and, after briefing and oral argument, unanimously reinstated the judgment for the clinic. The supreme court focused on the appellate court’s errant proximate causation analysis. Observing that the defense presented persuasive evidence that the patient’s death was a highly extraordinary event under the circumstances and that a qualified defense expert testified that a DVT diagnosis may not have been possible two weeks after the initial appointment, the court concluded that the appellate panel erroneously ignored portions of the trial testimony supporting a causation defense. In addition, the supreme court declined to address plaintiff’s alternative arguments for a new trial, all of which pertained to the standard of care aspect of plaintiff’s medical negligence claim. Claims of evidentiary error and alleged improper argument concerning the standard of care did not affect the supreme court’s disposition given the evidence supporting the conclusion that the clinic did not proximately cause the death of plaintiff’s decedent.