The Illinois Appellate Court, Second Division (“Illinois Appellate Court”) in its decision filed on February 6, 2018 held that the Illinois medical malpractice jury’s award of $22 million to the plaintiff must be reduced by $15 million, the portion of the award for future damages, because the injured party died after the case was submitted to the jury but before the jury rendered its verdict. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the other aspects of the Illinois medical malpractice jury’s award.
While being treated in the defendant hospital, the plaintiff had suffered a clot that occluded her tracheostomy tube and caused respiratory arrest that resulted in permanent brain damage that the Illinois medical malpractice jury determined was due to the medical negligence of the defendant hospital’s medical personnel. During the Illinois medical malpractice trial, two days prior to closing arguments, the plaintiff’s medical malpractice attorney informed the court that the plaintiff fell and sustained an injury requiring brain surgery. Because the plaintiff was not expected to regain competency, the attorney advised the court that he was making arrangements to have a guardian appointed. The Illinois medical malpractice jury was not told of this fact.
Following closing arguments and after the case had been submitted to the jury, the plaintiff died. The next morning, the plaintiff’s daughter was appointed as administrator of her mother’s estate. At that point, the defendant hospital moved for a mistrial in light of the original plaintiff’s death, which the trial court denied. A short time later, the jury returned its verdict in favor of plaintiff in the amount of $22,185,598.90. Of this amount, $15,007,965.68 was allocated toward future damages.
On appeal, the defendant hospital argued that the plaintiff was not entitled to future damages where the injured party died before the medical malpractice jury reached its verdict. The defendant hospital argued that when the injured party’s daughter was appointed special administrator of her mother’s estate pursuant to section 2-1008(b) of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-1008(b) (West 2014)), the case became a survival action, and therefore limited the relief that the jury could award.
The Illinois Survival Act (755 ILCS 5/27-6 (West 2014)) abrogates the common law and allows a cause of action for medical malpractice, among other things, to survive a party’s death. In a typical Survival Act claim, the representatives of the decedent would have a cause of action for medical expenses and pain and suffering of the decedent up to the date of death.
The plaintiff did not dispute that post-death damages are not available under the Survival Act but argued that, because the case had already been submitted to the jury when the original plaintiff died, it did not become a survival action. Rather, the plaintiff argued, the injured party was entitled to a decision given that the case was in the hands of the fact finder. In other words, the plaintiff argued a bright-line rule that once a case is submitted to a fact finder, no post-submission events should alter the judgment.
The Illinois Appellate Court cited the principle that the purpose of tort damages is to make the plaintiff whole rather than to bestow a windfall (in other words, compensatory tort damages are intended to compensate plaintiffs, not to punish defendants). The Illinois Appellate Court held “We would run afoul of this principle if we allowed [the] estate to collect an award for future injuries [the injured party] will no longer suffer. For this reason, we limit plaintiff’s recovery to compensation for injuries [the injured party] suffered prior to her death … we affirm the award in favor of plaintiff for $7,177,632.82, representing the award for past damages, but vacate the award for future damages in the amount of $15,007,965.68.”
Source Jefferson v. Mercy Hospital & Medical Center, 2018 IL App (1st) 162219.
If you or a loved one suffered serious injury (or worse) as a result of medical negligence in Illinois or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find an Illinois medical malpractice lawyer or a medical malpractice lawyer in your state who may investigate your medical malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
Visit our website or call us toll-free in the United States at 800-295-3959 to find medical malpractice attorneys in your U.S. state who may assist you.
Turn to us when you don’t know where to turn.