Doug Pomatto Successfully Defends Surgeon in Medical Malpractice Case

June 6, 2016 03:42 PM
Doug Pomatto

IADC member Doug Pomatto, Managing Partner of Heyl Royster’s Rockford, IL office, was the lead attorney, and Kathy Stockwell second-chaired, a jury trial in DeKalb County, IL in which the firm successfully defended a surgeon in a death case alleging medical malpractice. The decedent in the case had a history of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, and had been admitted to a community hospital via the emergency room with complaints of abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, and claiming she had a 114 degree fever. She was evaluated by a co-defendant doctor who ordered an abdominal CT scan and a surgical consultation from the firm's client, who ultimately determined that the patient did not require surgical intervention. On the second day of her admission, decedent suddenly became unresponsive; a rapid response was called, which was converted to a code blue. Although decedent was resuscitated, she suffered brain death. She died after the family decided to remove life support. The diagnosis of the death was C.Difficile colitis with sepsis. Plaintiffs alleged that both defendants failed to timely diagnose the colitis, failed to properly monitor the patient, and that the firm's client failed to perform a colectomy that would have saved decedent's life. At trial, the plaintiffs asked the jury for $8 million. After two hours of deliberation, the jury returned a complete verdict in both doctors' favor.

An interesting element of the case related to the plaintiff's litigation strategy – which revolved around a claim that there were violations of nine recognized "safety rules" – a tactic consistent with what is known as “Reptile Theory.” Such an approach is used to advance the argument that the defendant ignored well-established principles designed to keep the patient “safe,” and thereby subjected the plaintiff, and the community, to needless danger. The goal of this approach is to trigger a reptilian-like response in the minds of the jurors dictating that in addition to making financial compensation by their verdict, the jurors should deter similar “unsafe” conduct by the offender in the future. Pomatto and Stockwell were able to counter this trial strategy by highlighting the complicated, yet necessary, risk-benefit analysis that medical professionals must often make, and the theme that doctors don't treat patients with rules, but that they are often called on to exercise reasonable, clinical judgment based on the circumstances.

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