Court Affirms $45M ‘Patchwork’ Jury Verdict in Med Mal Case

The Illinois Appellate Court for the First District, Sixth Division affirmed that Cook County Circuit Judge Robert E. Senechalle properly instructed the jury to decide whether any one of four actions or omissions alleged by the plaintiff, Steven Butts, against Advocate Health and Hospital Corp. and emergency room physician Dr. Michael Soo-Young Joo breached the standard of care when he was improperly intubated, according to the opinion filed earlier this month…law.com, Illinois Appellate Court Affirms $45M ‘Patchwork’ Jury Verdict in Med Mal Case, Riley Brennan, Apr 2024

 

During deliberations, the jury submitted a written question asking: “‘We understand that only one of the findings of negligence needs to be found in order to proceed. Do we need unanimous agreement on any one of the findings in order to proceed?’” Over the defendants’ object, the trial court responded, “‘In order to proceed, you must make a unanimous decision that Dr. Joo was negligent. You do not need to be unanimous as to which one of the four possible acts constitute the negligence,’” the opinion cited.

 

Despite finding the physician-defendant negligent, the jurors did not agree which actions specifically were negligent, leading to a lack of unanimity. Still, the jury returned a verdict for Butts, awarding him $45.3 million—affirmed by the appellate court.

 

“The specific allegations of Dr. Joo’s acts or omissions are not separate elements of the claim on which the jury must unanimously agree, provided they agree his failure to meet the standard of care caused Butts’s injuries,”  Justice Michael B. Hyman wrote on behalf of the panel in the March 8 opinion. “The jury’s verdict indicated they unanimously agreed Dr. Joo’s negligence caused Butt’s brain injury. That is all the law requires. We affirm the judgment.”

 

On appeal, Advocate Health and Hospital and Joo argued that the judge’s answers to the jury questions deprived it of its constitutional right to a unanimous jury verdict and constitute reversible error, and that Section 2-1303(c) of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/2-1303(c) (West 2022)) is unconstitutional.

 

“The defendants pointed to the jurors’ note that they ‘agreed Dr. Joo was not negligent on two of Butt’s allegations,’ and ‘had a ‘split’ decision on another negligence allegation,’ as well as ‘a ‘majority’ decision on the remaining negligence allegation,’” the opinion said. ”They further pointed to Scott and Filipiak, arguing that ‘Butts alleged Dr. Joo committed four separate acts, each of which could support a negligence claim. The trial court then instructed the jury that it need not agree on which of those acts of negligence caused Butts’s injury to return a verdict in his favor.’”

 

The appellate court determined that the trial judge properly instructed the jury that they needed to unanimously agree that Joo was negligent to find for Butts, noting it is well-established law that medical negligence requires, Hyman wrote, with Justices Carl A. Walker and Sanjay T. Tailor concurring.

 

The court agreed with the trial court, finding it didn’t err in responding to the jury’s question, despite defendants arguing that the jurors had indicated they didn’t unanimously agree on Joo’s negligence.

 

However, the court disagreed with these arguments, noting that in the present case, in order for Butts to establish a claim for medical negligence, Butts had to prove the standard of care, that Joo didn’t meet this standard, and proximate cause.

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