May 2011 Archives

Estate of Prospect Heights Man Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit

May 28, 2011

A recent Chicago Tribune article has revealed that the estate of Rajmund Zalewa, a 26 year old Prospect Heights man killed on November 16th while working at a Libertyville hospital has filed a lawsuit against a local construction company seeking $600,000 in damages. Zalewa, who had worked for the housekeeping department of the hospital for six years, became pinned under heavy drywall in a section of the hospital that was currently undergoing construction.

Zalewa was found by other employees about 11 p.m. in a storage area where he was trapped by several pieces of lead lined drywall. According to hospital officials, it was unclear as to when the incident actually happened but Zalewa was on duty at the time of the incident. The lead-lined drywall is typically used with medical imaging, or x-rays and was part of the ongoing construction at the hospital.

Rajmund Zalewa was pronounced dead at Advocate Condell Medical Center. Preliminary autopsy results indicate Zalewa died from suffocation due to the weight of the drywall. The Lake County coroner's office concluded that Zalewa died from the pressure of the heavy material falling on his chest. Each piece of drywall carried a weight of about 200 lbs.

According to Cook County Circuit Court records, Antoni Zalewa, who has been named as the administrator of Rajmund Zalewa's estate, has filed a lawsuit against Chicago-based Pepper Construction Group LLC and Pepper's subcontractor R.G. Construction Services and has hired a Chicago personal injury lawyer for representation. The lawsuit alleges that the construction companies maintained an unsafe construction site and that they were negligent for failing to warn Zalewa about the dangers of the site.

Antoni Zalewa is seeking $50,000 in damages for 12 counts of negligence and wrongful death for a total of $600,000 dollars. The Spokesman for Pepper Construction has declined to comment on the case. The Unites States Occupational Safety and Health Administration is also investigating the death.

Unintended Consequences of Illinois Patients' Right To Know Act

May 23, 2011

The Illinois General Assembly recently passed the "Patients' Right to Know Act." If signed into law by Governor Pat Quinn, as expected, this Act will provide Illinois patients access to a database of valuable information on Illinois doctors. Run by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, the database will include information on whether a doctor has been fired, convicted of a crime, and/or made medical malpractice payment in the last five years. As a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer, I believe the bill can greatly benefit Illinois patients by allowing them to make more informed decision surrounding their choice of doctors. However, I fear there may be some important unintended consequences.

The first unintended consequence of the Patients Right to Know Act concerns the medical payment disclosure requirement and its adverse impact on medical malpractice settlement. Specifically, doctors who are defendants in Illinois medical malpractice lawsuits will have an even greater reluctance to agree to settlement, even if they know they were likely negligent and their negligence injured their patient. For example, many physicians may refuse settlement because they would feel embarrassment if their fellow doctors and current patients learned they settled a medical lawsuit. In addition, doctors may refuse to settlement fearing it could cause many of their current patients to leave their practice. Likewise, doctors considering settlement may also be concerned about loosing out on new patients if these potential patients learned the doctor they were considering settled a medical malpractice lawsuit in the last five years.

The second unintended consequence of the Patients Right to Know Act concerns the public disclosure of termination and its potential of unfairly tarnishing a doctor' reputation. Like doctors, other Illinois workers have been fired without having done anything wrong. Others have been fired for making an honest mistake, despite being an excellent worker. Still others have been fired for good cause, learned from their mistaken, and never made the same one again. In many instances, these workers went on to be exceptional employees in their respective careers. Few if any had to endure the challenge of their termination being disclosed to the public at large. For these reasons, I hope the reputations of good doctors are not unfairly damaged by a termination that, as a practical matter, has no bearing on the quality of care they provide their patients. So, while the Patient Right to Know Act arms Illinois citizens with valuable information on which to assess doctors, citizens should be careful not to draw a broad conclusions that may be unwarranted. After all, many of the best doctors in the country have made medical mistakes and may have also been terminated at one time or another. They are human and should not be summarily branded just for being human.

Military' Medical Malpractice Shield Disputed

May 3, 2011

According to a recent Associated Press article, veterans, military families and others who oppose the military' medical malpractice shield finally have some hope in bringing about some overdue changes to the Feres Doctrine which was established in 1950. This doctrine ultimately equates injuries sustained from military medical mistakes to battlefield wounds and protects the government from billions of dollars in liability claims.

These vets and relatives of military personnel are making their plight for medical malpractice liability known rallying around a case they consider the best chance in years to put an end to this governmental protection. According to the article, the U.S. Supreme Court has asked for more information from attorneys concerning the case of a 25-year-old noncommissioned officer who died after a nurse put a tube down the wrong part of his throat after a routine surgical procedure. The Supreme Court will decide next month whether or not to hear the case.

The court case at the center of attention involves the death of Air Force Staff Sgt. Dean Patrick Witt, who was hospitalized in 2003 for what should have been a routine appendectomy at Travis Air Force Base. After the successful surgery, a nurse anesthetist inserted a breathing tube into his esophagus instead of his trachea or airway. This mistake ultimately deprived his brain of oxygen and he died three months later after being taken off of life support. Although the nurse subsequently admitted her mistake and surrendered her state license, federal courts denied the legal claim by Witt's widow, stating that there was no recourse due to the Feres Doctrine.

The effort to change the law has gotten wide support from military officers and veterans groups. Many Congressional reps oppose changing the existing law and the article points out that the Congressional Budget Office estimated it would cost the government an average of $135 million every year in claims if the law was repealed.

According to the law firm representing the family of Witt, "We've given them a case that presents them with the best opportunity to fix this in a long time; they're the ones who broke it so they are in the best position to fix it." Chicago medical malpractice lawyer Jason Kroot is also eager see this law changed so that veterans and their families can seek compensation for gross cases of medical malpractice. As he asks, why should veterans be deprived of the same rights ordinary citizens are given simply because veterans have put their life on the line to serve our country.

New York Times Article Alleges Medication-Related Injuries on the Rise

May 1, 2011

According to a recently published New York Times article, the number of people treated in hospitals for medication errors has increased over 50% within the past couple of years. A small number of these cases have resulted in medical malpractice lawsuits stemming from injuries from these errors. The Times article reveals that in 2008, there were 1.9 million people that became ill or were injured from medication side effects or because they took or were given the wrong type or dose of a specific medication. In 2004, only 1.2 million were injured according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

While patients' advocacy groups have been calling for reforms aiming to lessen the occurrences of these medication errors, the findings of this study clearly illustrate that this is a persistent problem. The data from the study only pertains to people that were treated in hospitals for their medication errors and the study did not include specific information as to the cause of the errors. Some of the errors resulted from a physician prescribing the wrong prescription drug or dosage; others occurred because a pharmacist or nurse gave the wrong drug, or because a patient at home used the wrong type or dose of medication.

In a 2006 study, the Institute of Medicine issued a report citing medication mistakes as the most commonly occurring medical error. The study estimated that these errors cost an additional $3.5 billion for lost wages, productivity and additional health care expenses. The study recommended improvements in communication between health care professionals and patients in order to reduce the alarming frequency of these errors. They also suggested the creation of consumer-friendly information resource for patients to obtain drug information.

A Chicago medical malpractice lawyer representing a client in a medication error case elucidated that better naming, labeling and packaging of many drugs was needed to reduce confusion and prevent errors and that most cases regarding medication errors stemmed from errors surrounding these particular circumstances.