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Illinois sees decrease in medical malpractice payouts

In 2013, Medical Malpractice payouts decreased in Illinois, according to research from a medical malpractice insurer.

Diedrich Healthcare performed an analysis of 2013 medical malpractice payments that were recorded by the National Practitioner Data Bank. The insurer found that medical malpractice payouts in Illinois decreased by $28 million from 2012 to 2013.

The insurer also found that 2013 was the first year since 2003 that medical malpractice payments increased nationwide. National payouts increased by $168 million, a figure 4.7 percent greater than 2012′s.

The greatest state decrease in payouts was seen in New York, with a $73 million drop. In Massachusetts, there was a drop of $7 million; in Florida, a decrease of $4 million; and in Mississippi, a drop of $3 million. The largest increase in medical malpractice payouts occurred in California, which saw a $51 million uptick.

On a national basis, 96 percent of the payouts were represented by settlements. In cases that went to judgment, the average payment amount decreased by more than $200,000.

Diedrich Healthcare also analyzed malpractice payouts according to the type of allegation. The insurer found that in 33 percent of payouts, the allegation was related to diagnosis. Twenty-three percent involved surgery, 18 percent involved treatment and 10 percent concerned obstetrics. Allegations related to medication, anesthesia, monitoring, equipment and other causes accounted for five percent or less of the total.

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Ten million settlement follows trooper’s death

A $10.9 million settlement was reached in a wrongful death lawsuit over the death of an Illinois state trooper. The trooper was struck and killed by a truck driver who allegedly fell asleep while driving.

Elizabeth Sauter, Trooper James Sauter’s widow, filed the lawsuit against the truck driver and the companies he was working for at the time of the March 2013 accident.

The driver was also criminally charged in Cook County for violating federal hours-of-service regulations. According to prosecutors, he dozed off on the Tri-State Tollway on March 28, striking the trooper after working a 12-hour shift.

Records from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration show that the driver and United Van Lines were fined $2,500 and $5,500, respectively, for violating a federal regulation prohibiting a driver from being on duty over 14 hours without taking 10 hours of rest time.

Judge Kathy M. Flanagan of Cook County Circuit Court approved the settlement after the parties reached an agreement in pre-trial mediation.

According to allegations in the lawsuit, Sauter’s squad car was parked on the left shoulder of Interstate 294. The truck driver was driving a semitrailer in the left lane when he fell asleep. The semi veered off the road, crashing into Sauter’s vehicle, the lawsuit alleged. According to court records, the truck driver worked from 6:31 a.m. to 6:32 p.m. that day loading the truck, then drove from 7:14 p.m. to 7:34 p.m., and again from 8:49 p.m. until the time of the crash at 11:03 p.m.

Illinois workers’ compensation medical fee schedule under scrutiny

In 2011, an across-the-board 30 percent cut was implemented in medical fee schedules for the Illinois workers’ compensation system. Some observers say that medical fees in the workers’ compensation system are now so low that doctors and other medical professionals may be reluctant to treat injured workers.

Doctors report that workers’ compensation payments are now lower than Medicare rates, which has an impact on access to medical care.

A study by the Workers Compensation Research Institute, a think tank funded by the insurance industry, found that prices for surgeries in the workers’ comp system remain high, while the cost of office visits may be too low.

The report claimed that if workers’ compensation prices are set below prices paid by group health insurers or Medicare, then injured workers may not have access to care. However, if prices are set higher than for other payors, then they could be lowered without affecting access to care.

The report also compared prices paid for nonhospital professional medical services and for group health prices and Medicare rates after the 2011 fee reduction. A significant difference between surgery costs and office visits was found.

The average workers’ compensation office visit cost for a condition of low or moderate severity was $62, $14 less than the estimated group health care plan price and $11 below the Medicare rate. Researchers said that policymakers should consider whether the lowered fee schedule may impair access to care.

Illinois sees decrease in malpractice payouts and Drunk drivers get a second chance – Podcast

Diedrich Healthcare performed an analysis of 2013 medical malpractice payments that were recorded by the National Practitioner Data Bank. The insurer found that medical malpractice payouts in Illinois decreased by $28 million from 2012 to 2013. Plus, a new bill is introduced to give drunk drivers a second chance on this month’s Chicago Injury Alert.

Chicago jury awards fourteen million dollars in medical malpractice lawsuit

A Chicago jury recently awarded $14 million to the plaintiff in a medical malpractice lawsuit.

The plaintiff, Mariola Zapalski, was prescribed the birth control drug Yasmin. After taking the medication for 13 days, she suffered a stroke that resulted in a permanent brain injury and the paralysis of her left side. She now requires around-the-clock care.

The lawsuit alleged that Zapalski’s doctor should not have prescribed the medication to her because she had underlying risk factors. According to the lawsuit, her doctor also failed to warn her of the risks associated with the medication. A lawsuit against the medical center that provided Zapalski with the referral to her doctor was settled for $2.5 million, according to reports.

Yasmin contains drospirenone, which is a synthetic progestin that has been linked to an increased risk of stroke and blood clots. The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning in 2011 stating that birth control drugs containing drospirenone may carry a greater risk of blood clots than other types of birth control. Preliminary results from an FDA study suggested that the risk of blood clots is 1.5 times greater. However, Yasmin and other drugs containing drospirenone are still on the market. Bayer, the manufacturer of Yasmin, has settled other lawsuits over the drug.

Wrongful death lawsuit filed over drowning death after swan attack

The wife of a Villa Park man who died after being attacked by a swan has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the man’s employer and against the condo complex where he was working when he died.

According to the lawsuit, Anthony Hensley had responsibility over two swans in the Bay Colony condo complex in Des Plaines. The condo complex used the swans to keep geese away. Hensley was employed by Knox Swan and Dog, the company that provided the swans to the complex.

Two years ago, one of the swans knocked Hensley out of his kayak. Hensley, wearing boots and heavy clothing, attempted to swim for shore but drowned. Witnesses said the swan continued to swim toward the man after he fell out of the kayak. He was pronounced dead at Lutheran General Hospital. Hensley was 37 and the father of two children.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the death was found to be an accidental drowning after an autopsy. Officials said that Hensley may have gotten too close to the swans’ nesting area, sparking the attack. According to Hensley’s father, he was a strong swimmer.

In the lawsuit, Hensley’s wife claims that the condo complex and his employer should have known that swans are territorial and are prone to attack humans.

Eleven million dollar birth injury lawsuit over Topamax stands

In a recent birth injury lawsuit, a jury award of $11 million will stand after a judge denied a defendant’s motion for a new trial.

The jury made the award in November 2013 in a lawsuit over birth injuries suffered by a child whose mother, Haley Powell, used the antiepileptic drug Topamax during pregnancy. The suit alleged that the mother’s use of the medication caused the boy to be born with a severe cleft palate and other birth injuries. Janssen Pharmaceuticals, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson that manufactures the drug, was the defendant in the case.

The jury found that Janssen failed to warn the mother of the risk of birth injuries from the use of Topamax during pregnancy.

In denying the motion for a new trial, Judge George W. Overton of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas held that the amount of the award was appropriate given the severity of the injuries. Overton noted that the boy struggles to be understood in conversation, has residual scarring from surgery, and faces future additional surgeries as well as psychological and emotional challenges stemming from the cleft palate.

At the time of the trial, Bloomberg News reported that the plaintiffs’ attorneys claimed that Janssen intentionally withheld safety reports suggesting a link between Topamax and birth injuries.

Birth Injuries: Three Common Causes

Injuries sustained during birth can cause a child to suffer from serious medical conditions that will alter life for both the child and parents. Even more devastating is the fact that many birth injuries are preventable. Many result from the negligence of medical personnel (otherwise known as medical malpractice). Three of the most common causes of birth injuries are trauma, oxygen deprivation and reduced glucose.

Trauma may be caused by the labor process itself or by the actions or inactions of medical personnel. If medical personnel use a vacuum extractor or forceps inappropriately, the tools may cause cerebral contusions or bleeding. Trauma can also result from a long period of repeated contractions, causing the baby’s head to be forced against the mother’s pelvis. In some of these cases, if medical personnel fail to take action to initiate a cesarean section, then brain injury can result.

Oxygen deprivation is another major cause of birth injuries, and it can be caused by a number of different factors. In the womb, the fetus receives oxygen from the mother’s blood through the placenta. But during birth, a child can be deprived of oxygen through the inappropriate use of oxycotin, which is used to expedite the delivery process. During contractions, the flow of oxygenated blood is interrupted, and the excessive use of oxytocin can cause hyperstimulation of the uterus. Oxygen deprivation can also be caused when medical personnel are not prepared to perform a cesarean section quickly enough if it becomes necessary.

During a long and difficult labor, the level of glucose in a baby’s blood may drop to dangerous levels. If medical personnel fail to monitor the levels of glucose in a baby’s blood and take prompt action to correct problems, brain injuries can result.

IWCC rules a close call insufficient for a mental disability claim

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission recently ruled against a train operator who claimed a mental disability based on the trauma of believing that the train he was operating had struck and killed a pedestrian.

The worker was operating a train exiting a tunnel when he observed two young men running across the tracks. The operator was not able to stop the train, and he heard a thumping noise that caused him to believe that the train had run over and killed one of the men. However, upon exiting the train, the operator observed the two men running away.

The train operator sought psychological counseling for sleep disturbance, anxiety, flashbacks, fatigue and headaches. He also sought workers’ compensation benefits for a psychiatric disability.

The arbitrator in the case denied the worker benefits, finding that he was not exposed to a severe and sudden emotional shock. The arbitrator’s decision was confirmed by the commission.

The commission held that the operator had testified credibly as to the events. However, because the injured man was able to stand up under his own power, jump a fence and run away, the operator did not face the emotional shock of witnessing the aftermath of what he believed had happened.

In addition, the commission agreed with the arbitrator’s finding that the alleged mental disorder did not arise from a situation beyond the usual emotional tension and strain that workers must experience, particularly those who operate motorized vehicles.

Doctors who lose licenses still collect from Medicare

Several doctors who have committed medical malpractice and other offenses to such a degree that they lost their state licenses to practice medicine have been able to practice medicine in other states and to continue billing Medicare for their services.

A Bloomberg News investigation found seven doctors who billed Medicare for a total of $6.5 million in 2012, despite having lost their medical licenses because of medical malpractice or other misconduct.

Consumer advocates and some members of Congress decried what they called a permissive approach to participation by doctors in the $604 billion Medicare program. Records show that all seven doctors informed Medicare that they had lost their licenses.

The information was released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which administers Medicare. The federal agency released data regarding its payments to doctors for the first time in more than 30 years. So far, only data from 2012 has been released. CMS said it hoped the release of data would make it possible for others to assist in uncovering fraud within the system.

CMS has discretionary authority to take doctors off the Medicare provider list if they lose their state license to practice medicine. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) Inspector General has the same discretionary authority. Neither agency is required to act, and a DHS spokesman said that doctors are generally not excluded if one state revokes a medical license but another state grants a license with knowledge of the first state’s action.

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The law firm of Briskman Briskman & Greenberg represents injured people throughout Illinois, including Chicago, the Chicagoland area, Joliet, Waukegan, Cicero, Evanston, Arlington Heights, Wheaton, Bolingbrook, and Naperville, as well as other cities within Cook County, Will County, DuPage County, Lake County and McHenry County. Briskman Briskman & Greenberg also represents injured people throughout Wisconsin, including Kenosha, Milwaukee, and Madison.
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