Cook County Medical Malpractice Jury Verdict Affirmed On Appeal As To Apparent Authority of Emergency Room Physician

The Illinois First District Appellate Court affirmed a Chicago jury verdict, thereby reaffirming its interpretation of apparent authority. The Cook County lawsuit involved a woman who was treated by an emergency room doctor who was not employed by the hospital, but was instead employed by Emergency Specialists of Illinois, P.C. Yet both the trial and appellate courts felt that there was sufficient evidence in the medical malpractice lawsuit to prove that the plaintiff had believed the ER physician was employed by the hospital and therefore that the hospital was also liable for the Illinois emergency room errors. Spiegelman v. Victory Memorial Hospital, No. 1-07-3915.

The plaintiff presented to the Victory Memorial Hospital ER complaining of headaches, pain in her left ear, congestion, a sense of dizziness when turning her head, nausea, and occasional double vision. Upon her arrival she informed the ER nurse that she had a medical history of sinusitis, was allergic to penicillin, and had previously been smoking about 2 ½ packs of cigarettes a day.

The plaintiff was examined by a doctor and diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, sinusitis, and an eardrum infection. An x-ray of her sinuses was ordered and she was discharged with instructions to follow up with her primary physician the following day. However, before the patient even left the hospital she became unable to walk straight and had to lean against a wall to support herself.

The Cook County ER physician thought she might have experienced a stroke so ordered blood work and a CT scan of her head. However, the results came back negative and failed to show any brain abnormalities or that she had suffered a stroke. At this point the ER physician consulted other doctors and a spinal tap was ordered to see whether she had bacterial meningitis. When she had first been seen by the ER doctor she did not have some typical signs of meningitis, such as chills, fever, or a stiff neck. However, the spinal tap came back positive for spinal meningitis.

The bacterial meningitis has left this woman with a permanent brain injury so that she is now wheelchair-bound and requires assistance with her day-to-day activities. In light of the severe damages, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $11,110,000.

The hospital appealed the medical negligence verdict and argued that the trial court had erred in applying the principles of apparent authority because the plaintiff had not sufficiently proved that the hospital held out the emergency room physician as its agent. The hospital further claimed that the plaintiff had failed to prove that the hospital held out the emergency department physician as its agent and that the plaintiff justifiably relied on any holding out by the hospital.

The Illinois Appeal Court rejected that argument saying that there were sufficient facts beyond the independent-contractor disclosure and the consents signed by the plaintiff that supported the jury’s verdict.

Kreisman Law Offices has been practicing Cook County medical malpractice law for over 30 years, serving areas in and around Chicago, such as Oak Lawn, Cicero, Melrose Park, and Deer Park.