Illinois Appellate Court Upholds Verdict Over Expert Qualifications

A Cook County jury verdict was entered in favor of the University of Chicago Hospitals in a 2005 trial and was upheld on appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court (Kashief Weathers et al. v. University of Chicago Hospitals, et al., No. 1-061726). In the case, several doctors were accused of causing brain damage to an infant born with his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. The plaintiff child now suffers from cerebral palsy and severe brain damage.

The baby’s mother brought an Illinois birth injury malpractice claim against University of Chicago Hospital alleging that defendant doctors failed to relieve the trauma caused by his umbilical cord during his birth in October 1988. There were also allegations that the doctors didn’t timely treat the baby’s seizures after his birth.

The plaintiffs’ obstetric expert testified that the defendant doctors deviated from the standard of care by not performing a cesarean section, which would have sped up the delivery. The expert felt that a quick delivery could have changed the child’s outcome because the brain damage likely occurred at some time during labor.

But the defense expert, a pediatric neurologist, disagreed. He felt that a cesarean section would not have made a difference because in his opinion the baby was injured at least one day prior to his birth. So by the time his mother was in labor there was nothing the doctors could have done to alter his outcome.

The trial jury sided with the defense and entered a verdict in favor of the University of Chicago Hospitals. The plaintiff brought the case for appeal on several counts.

First, plaintiff argued that the trial court should not have admitted defendants’ expert testimony because it violated the standard for admittance established in Frye v. United States, 293 F. 1013 (D.C. Cir. 1923). Frye states that in order for expert testimony to be admitted into evidence the testimony should involve a matter that an inexperienced person is incapable of forming a correct judgment about. Furthermore, the opinion that the expert offers must be generally acknowledged within a particular field.

Plaintiff argued that defendant’s pediatric neurologist reached his conclusions using a method not commonly recognized within his field. The expert opined that the baby’s brain damage occurred a day before his birth by reviewing CT scans of the baby’s brain and moving back in time to determine the date of injury.

During the trial an evidence hearing was held to determine whether the expert’s methodology was generally accepted within his field. On its review of these proceedings the appellate court stated that it was and that “[i]ndeed, [the expert] had a difficult time articulating the precise resource for the methodology because it was relied upon so commonly.”

On appeal, the plaintiffs also argued that the defense’s closing argument improperly relied upon a post-occurrence medical study which should have been inadmissible. Specifically, the defense attorney told the jury that once the initial injury occurred to the baby’s brain that nothing could be done to help him. The presiding judge overruled plaintiff’s objections to this and stated it provided causation for the baby’s injuries.

The appellate court rejected this argument. In its opinion the defense attorney did not overstep the limitations of his closing argument. Rather that the attorney had simply restated part of his expert’s testimony that no progress had been made to limit the effects of the initial injury on later brain damage. And even if there had been any damage made by the attorney’s statement then it would have been remedied by the jury instruction to disregard any statements made in closing that were not based on law or evidence.

Based on its review of the case and trial the Illinois Appellate Court upheld the original verdict in favor of the University of Chicago Hospitals and its doctors. All of plaintiffs’ arguments were rejected.

Kreisman Law Offices has handled medical malpractice cases in Cook County for over 30 years, including Berwyn, Forest Park, Niles, and Rosemont.

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