The Clinical Advisor reported Monday on an Illinois medical malpractice case that was settled this month stemming from the 2009 death of a man suffering from a rare disease. The victim was a geriatric and internal medicine doctor who was diagnosed with a debilitating autoimmune disorder known as Lambert Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome (LEMS). It affects only 300 people across the world. The victim himself spent more than two decades learning about LEMS, and he eventually came to believe that a stem cell transplant might provide a cure for the problem.
The man visited Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago to undergo the treatment that he hoped would fix the LEMS problem. However, in an incident unrelated to the actual stem cell transplant, a nurse at the facility committed a medication error. A note was specifically inserted into the man’s chart indicating that he should not receive any insulin. However, the nurse disregarded that note or failed to see it and she gave him insulin anyway. This caused the man to lapse into a diabetic coma. The coma lasted for three weeks before the man passed away. Following the tragedy, the widow of the victim filed an Illinois medical malpractice lawsuit seeking to hold the facility accountable for the misconduct. She alleged that the staff members at the hospital failed to abide by reasonable standards of care when they were treating her husband, resulting in his death.
These cases are begun with the filing of a “complaint” which is a legal document laying out the claims made by the plaintiff. Once the defendants are made aware of the suit, they have a variety of option to respond to the complaint. Following that, the “discovery” phase of the case begins where both sides collect information about the situation to prepare for an ultimate trial. During this stage the plaintiff’s attorneys use various tools to collect more information about exactly what happened. This includes submitting written questions to the other side (known as “interrogatories”) and conducting interviews with those who have information about the situation (known as “depositions”).
This particular case was in the discovery phase when a nurse at the hospital admitted during a deposition that she had complained to the facility about the fact that the nurses were overworked and had too many patients. Inadequate staffing levels are a common problem at these facilities. Far too many medical errors can arise when care workers have more obligations than they do time. This results in cut corners and rushed practices which often fail to account for warnings like the “no insulin” warning in this case.
Ultimately, this case never went to trial. As frequently happens, the parties involved in this lawsuit reached a settlement before the case went before a jury. A settlement is essentially a private legal agreement that two sides reach whereby one usually agrees to provide some compensation while the other agrees not to proceed with a civil legal action. These settlements can be entered into at any time, usually before trial. However, it is not at all uncommon for settlement to be reached just days or even hours before the trial is scheduled. In fact, sometimes the parties agree upon terms in the very middle of trial.
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