Loss of Chance in Illinois Medical Malpractice Cases – Is There a Clear Standard?

For a moment, put yourself in a heartbreaking hypothetical: a loved one was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease and has just passed away. However, after your companion’s death you find out that there was something the doctor could have done to save the person’s life, but didn’t. Or that the doctor did something he or she wasn’t supposed to, which hastened your loved one’s death. Certainly the death was caused by the illness – but what about the doctor’s liability?

This is a question with which Illinois courts often struggle.

In a famous Illinois medical malpractice case called Holton v. Memorial Hospital, the Illinois Supreme Court was faced with the issue of whether a sick or injured person with a less-than-50% chance of survival or recovery could successfully bring a medical malpractice claim against the doctor for the doctor’s intervening acts or omissions.

The Illinois Supreme Court ultimately said that such a claim may be valid – but the answer isn’t that simple.

The standard of care currently accepted in Illinois says that a health care professional who provides professional services to a patient is liable for the harm that results if one of the provider’s acts or omissions increases the patient’s risk of harm. This is what is known as the “Lost Chance doctrine” in Illinois medical malpractice actions, and it refers to two types of situations:
1. where a person has been deprived of a chance to survive or recover from a health problem due to the medical provider’s negligence, or
2. where the medical provider’s negligence either lessened the effectiveness of plaintiff’s treatment or increased plaintiff’s risk of an unfavorable outcome.

What does this mean for you?

Since Holton, the Illinois Supreme Court has twice found that the injured party does not need to prove that he or she would have been better off had the health care professional not intervened. This means that the evidence only has to show that the care provider interceded, and that the involvement increased the patient’s risk of harm. Bringing a claim is much easier for people who have been wrongfully injured.

The reason behind this – in addition to ensuring that unjustly hurt persons are allowed their day in court – is that if recovery was prohibited in cases of injury when the patient was already ill, there would be no incentive for medical professionals to administer the best possible quality of care. It would be terrifying to think that if a person was at risk for death and the doctor absorbed no liability, that the doctor wouldn’t be held to any professional health care standards.

So what now?

Even though the Illinois Supreme Court in Holton laid out the standards for bringing a medical malpractice claim in Illinois, it doesn’t guarantee a win in all Lost Chance cases. It simply means that in cases where a health care professional’s intervention negatively affected a patient’s likelihood of survival or recovery, the court will hear the case. Certainly it’s a huge step in the right direction in terms of achieving justice for those who have been wrongfully injured.

If you or a loved one have been harmed in a situation involving medical malpractice in Illinois, a Chicago personal injury attorney may be able to help.

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