Some legal researchers have identified that misconceptions about injury cases–including Illinois medical malpractice lawsuits–are often rooted in the way that the suits are covered by the media. In particular, the only time that a lawsuit reaches a mass audience is when the plaintiff wins the case, usually for a large amount. Other than that, most community members who do not file a suit themselves have little understanding of the overall dynamics of the legal system or the usual outcomes.
All of this leads to skewed public perceptions, with many thinking that most cases end with plaintiff’s winning millions of dollars after jury verdicts at trial. That is not at all the case. Instead, defendants are just as likely to win in these matter when brought to trial (the burden of proof is in their favor). And even when plaintiffs do win, the judgements are often nowhere near as large as those that make headlines.
Each Chicago medical malpractice lawyer at our firm understands the need to break those stereotypes. After all, false assumptions about the civil justice system has led many community members to mistakenly support legislative changes which take away rights of injury victims. The first step in reversing those misguided actions is presenting an honest picture of the civil justice system and its operation.
Defendant Wins at Trial
For one thing, when a case goes to trial–which does not happen all that often–the defendant is often in a better position than the plaintiff. That is not necessarily because the defendants are blameless. Instead it is because the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to explicitly show that misconduct occurred. That is often hard to do. In close calls, where a juror is split 50-50, then the defendant wins the case, because a “tie” goes to the defendant.
For example, the Dodge Globe recently broke the trend and reported on an actual defense victory in a birth injury cases where medical malpractice was alleged.
The issue in the case was whether a nurse breached a standard of care in delivering a child, which led to the child developing serious complications, including cerebral palsy. According to the story, the family went into the medical clinic in the small town when she was only 34 weeks pregnant. After about an hour, it became clear that the baby was in trouble, with heart rate problems which led to oxygen deprivation in the child’s brain.
As the complications mounted, the nurse called a doctor and asked the doctor to come to the hospital. However, the doctor did not come promptly. It was more than half an hour before he arrived. By that point, the serious problems had worsened. The doctor ordered an immediate C-section. It was lucky that the baby survived, as she did not breathe at all the first five minutes following her birth. She needed more than a month in the neonatal intensive care unit.
In a subsequent lawsuit the plaintiff alleged–along with an expert medical witness–that the standard of care was breached because the nurse did not notify another physician when the first did not arrive promptly. The medical chain of command should have been followed, which would have involved far quicker action and prevented the child’s serious, life-long injury.
However, the jury disagreed and returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff. There were questions about whether the fact that the clinic was in a small town affected the jury’s determination of the appropriate standard of care. The jury verdict was appealed to the Court of Appeals as well as the state Supreme Court. However, at both levels the court affirmed the trial court’s decision.
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