The Appellate Court of Illinois First District (“Appellate Court”) on October 7, 2019 affirmed a general verdict in favor of the Illinois medical malpractice defendant, University of Chicago Medical Center, stating that when a jury returns a general verdict where more than one theory of a party’s liability was presented at trial, the verdict will be upheld if there was sufficient evidence to sustain either theory.
The Underlying Facts
The plaintiff had sued the University of Chicago Medical Center, claiming that it was negligent in treating the decedent after her heart attack, thereby leading to her death. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant was negligent in allowing a pressure sore to develop on the decedent’s lower back, that the defendant was negligent in treating the pressure sore, which became infected, resulting in sepsis and the decedent’s death, and that the defendant’s negligence was a proximate cause of the decedent’s injuries.
The defendant denied the allegations of medical negligence and raised an affirmative defense of contributory negligence, alleging that the decedent’s long history of smoking and her refusal to follow the advice of her doctors in the years preceding her heart attack were proximate causes of her injuries.
The Chicago medical malpractice jury returned a general verdict in favor of the defendant. The circuit court denied the plaintiff’s post-trial motion for a new trial and the plaintiff appealed, arguing that the circuit court abused its discretion by permitting the defendant to introduce evidence of the decedent’s history of smoking at trial.
The Illinois Appellate Court stated, “In the absence of any indication in the record as to which theory of liability the jury rested its decision on, a party on appeal may not obtain relief from the jury’s verdict if at least one theory of liability would be sufficient to sustain the verdict.”
In the case the Illinois Appellate Court was deciding, the defendant presented multiple theories as to why it was not liable for the decedent’s death: (1) it was not negligent; (2) it complied with the standard of care; (3) its conduct was not the proximate cause of the decedent’s injuries; and (4) if the defendant was negligent, the decedent was contributorily negligent, which was a proximate cause of her own injuries.
The Illinois Appellate Court stated, “it is evident that the jury heard evidence on the issue of whether defendant was negligent, whether defendant complied with the standard of care in treating [the decedent], and whether defendant’s conduct was a proximate cause of [the decedent’s] injuries. From that evidence, a jury could reasonably conclude that defendant was not negligent … Because there appears to be a sufficient basis for the jury’s general verdict—that defendant was not negligent, that defendant complied with the standard of care, or that [the decedent’s] injuries were not proximately caused by defendant—the general verdict rule precludes plaintiff from obtaining any relief on appeal.”
The Illinois Appellate Court held: “Plaintiff’s violations of our supreme court’s rules governing appellate briefs are severe, and have impeded our ability to meaningfully review the circuit court’s judgment, resulting in forfeiture. We have no basis from which to conclude that the circuit court abused its discretion by denying plaintiff’s motion for a new trial, as we have no basis to conclude that he [sic] jury’s verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence. For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the circuit court is affirmed.”
Source Cox v. University of Chicago Medical Center, 2019 IL App (1st) 181473-U.
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