Posted On: July 30, 2007 by Christopher T. Hurley

Illinois Appellate Court affirms Hurley McKenna & Mertz negligent credentialing trial victory against hospital

The Illinois Appellate Court has affirmed the largest known verdict for a plaintiff in an institutional negligence case ever obtained in Illinois. The case is also the first reported case in Illinois dealing with a hospital's liability for negligently credentialing a physician, podiatrist or other health care provider. Christopher T. Hurley and Mark R. McKenna of Hurley McKenna & Mertz obtained the $7,775,668 verdict in August of 2004 for their client, a long-time critical care nurse who went to Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet, Illinois for removal of a bunion on her left foot. Dr. Paul Kirchner, a podiatrist with surgical privileges at Silver Cross Hospital, performed the procedure, known as a bunionectomy, in spite of the fact that the patient had a diabetic ulcer present at the site of the bunion. Diabetic ulcers are a known source of infections, and podiatric standards generally require that an elective surgery such as a bunionectomy be delayed until the ulcer is completely healed.

During the original trial, the jury heard testimony that Dr. Kirchner made an incision near the diabetic ulcer, and placed a screw in patient's left foot. As a result, the bones in patient's left foot at the site of the screw became severely infected. No attempt was made to remove the infected screw until February of 1999 at Silver Cross Hospital, and trial testimony indicated that Dr. Kirchner was unable to remove the screw at that time because of his alleged lack of proper surgical training.

As a consequence of the negligent October, 1998, left foot surgery at Silver Cross Hospital, the bones in the patient's left foot became so infected that she was forced to undergo the amputation of her left foot. The patient has been unable to return to work as a nurse since the surgery.

During the case, Hurley and McKenna presented evidence to the jury that Silver Cross Hospital granted hospital privileges to Dr. Kirchner in 1992 contrary to the hospital’s own by-laws. The hospital’s by-laws required all podiatrists seeking surgical privileges at the hospital to have completed either a 12-month podiatric surgical residency program, or be board-certified by the American Board of Podiatric Surgery. Dr. Kirchner met neither of these requirements in 1992, when he initially began performing procedures at Silver Cross Hospital, or in 1998, when he performed surgery on the patient. During that time period Dr. Kirchner re-applied several times for continuation of his surgical privileges at Silver Cross Hospital, and each time the hospital’s Board of Trustees granted the privileges in violation of its own rules and by-laws.

Illinois law requires hospitals to use reasonable care to determine the qualifications of health care professionals added to a hospital’s medical staff. A hospital's failure to use reasonable care to select and supervise health care professionals to care for patients, which leads to serious injury, can give rise to a claim for institutional negligence.

In this case the jury agreed that podiatrist Dr. Kirchner was professionally negligent in performing the surgery and failing to properly treat the foot infection, and that Silver Cross Hospital was negligent in giving hospital privileges to Dr. Kirchner to perform the surgery in the first place.

You can read the Illinois Appellate Court's opinion here.

Chicago-based Hurley McKenna & Mertz, founded in 1991, is devoted solely to the representation of severely injured persons. The firm has tried and settled hundreds of cases, and obtained numerous multi-million dollar verdicts. If you believe you or a loved one has been a victim of institutional negligence by a hospital or health care facility, feel free to contact us at 312/553-4900.

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