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Vietnam veteran wins twelve million dollars in medical malpractice settlement

A Vietnam veteran and Chicago-area resident will receive a $12 million settlement from the federal government in a medical malpractice case.

John Johnson is a Vietnam combat veteran who served in the Army from 1970 to 1971. In 2007, Johnson was admitted to Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Administration Hospital in Hines, Illinois for oral surgery. After he was put under anesthesia, Johnson went into cardiac arrest, which resulted in brain damage. Johnson filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against the hospital.

According to the lawsuit, doctors did not prepare adequately for the surgery and failed to properly monitor Johnson’s heart condition after he received anesthesia.

Johnson’s attorney said that the $12 million settlement will be used to cover Johnson’s medical and living expenses, and that his family is looking for a house that will accommodate his daily care needs. Johnson’s attorney said that this was one of the largest malpractice settlements paid out by the U.S. government.

The Hines V.A. Hospital is a 471-bed facility, located on 147 acres 12 miles west of downtown Chicago. The hospital also operates six community-based outpatient clinics in the Chicago area. In fiscal year 2010, the hospital served more than 600,000 patients with a budget of more than $510 million.

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Federal judge has entered a judgment against the United States in a brain injury case

A federal judge has entered a $28 million judgment against the United States in a brain injury case.

U.S. District Judge David Herndon entered the judgment in favor of Sean Cobbs — who suffered a severe brain injury when doctors allegedly did not perform a timely cesarean section — and of his parents, Sean Cobbs Sr. and Patoya Bryant.

The award includes lost earnings damages of $3,216,827, future care damages of $15,165,708, past medical expenses of $231,713, $5 million for the loss of a normal life, pain and suffering damages of $3 million, disfigurement damages of $2 million and $1 million in damages for risk of future harm.

The lawsuit was filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act in November 2010, citing the conduct of three obstetricians. Claims against Southern Illinois Hospital Services and two nurses were settled at a prior date.

The lawsuit claimed that the child’s brain injuries were caused by the failure to perform a timely C-section. According to the lawsuit, medical records indicated that the injury to the brain occurred at or near the time of the child’s birth. However, the government claimed that the injury occurred before the mother came to the hospital.

According to the plaintiffs, the cause of the brain injury was oxygen deprivation, and evidence indicated that it occurred between 40 minutes before birth and ten minutes after birth.

Fast-food worker wins benefits in court after altercation with coworker

Recently, a fast-food chain employee won workers’ compensation benefits in a case that came before the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission on appeal. After a workers’ compensation case is decided in court, either the worker or the employer may appeal the decision to the commission.

The case involved an altercation with a coworker, and it hinged on whether or not the worker was the aggressor in that struggle. The plaintiff sought benefits after she was injured in a workplace scuffle. Allegedly, the woman placed a dish in the wrong sink, and a coworker responded by spraying her with a hose. She also claimed that on another occasion, the coworker tried to put her into the sink.

In the altercation that followed, the woman struck her coworker in the groin area, and she claimed that her coworker forcefully pulled on her arm, causing the injury. A witness corroborated that the woman hit her coworker in the groin, but there was uncertainty as to whether the action was purposeful or accidental. The employer sought to have the claim denied based on rules that preclude a worker from being awarded workers’ compensation benefits if he or she is the aggressor in a fight that causes injuries to the worker.

The commission determined that the woman’s conduct in striking her coworker did not trigger the aggressor defense for the employer, regardless of whether or not the action was accidental. The commission therefore granted the woman’s request for benefits.

Unreported robotic surgery injuries pose new FDA questions

More than 350,000 surgeries were performed with Intuitive Surgical Inc.’s robotic da Vinci device in 2012 alone. The use of robotic devices in surgery has expanded greatly in recent years. Unfortunately, however, injuries associated with these surgeries have also increased, and such injuries often lead to medical malpractice litigation.

Patients considering surgery may find it difficult to assess possible dangers. Gaps in reporting requirements mean that a clear, complete picture of injuries caused by robotic surgery devices is hard to find.

While the Food and Drug Administration maintains a list of reports of deaths and injuries sent by doctors and hospitals, the agency does not have the authority to compel doctors to make such reports. Hospitals are supposed to make the reports, but they often choose not to.

A Bloomberg News analysis of reports involving the da Vinci device found that dozens of patient injuries went unreported for years at a time. David Challoner, who co-authored a report by the Institute of Medicine calling for a better adverse event reporting system, said that the current system is a “disaster,” in part because medical professionals and medical device companies have an incentive to under-report patient problems.

The FDA said that it is aware of the problem of under-reporting and is working to improve the system.

More legal twists in decade-long wrongful death case

A wrongful death lawsuit involving a seven-year-old girl who witnessed her mother being run over by a Greyhound bus has returned to Cook County Circuit Court after more than a decade and more than 25 appeals.
Its legal twists involve allegations of improper conduct by judges, among other factors.

In 2013, the Illinois Appellate Court invalidated a $2.1 million settlement in the lawsuit, which had previously been valued at more than $8 million. The appeals court sent the case back to the Circuit Court, making the unusual finding that there had been unsound rulings by Judge Daniel Locallo, and that Judge William Maddux should not be involved in the reassignment of the case to a new judge.

Maddux had earlier acknowledged a “substantial” conflict of interest because his personal attorney was involved in the lawsuit. However, Maddux did not disqualify himself.

In December, Maddux reassigned the case randomly to Judge James Flannery, Jr. The attorney for the plaintiff objected, saying that the appeals court had instructed that Maddux have no involvement in reassigning the case.

Cristina Zvunca and her mother, Claudia Zvunca, immigrated to Chicago from Romania. In January 2002, they were waiting to reboard a Chicago-bound Greyhound bus after visiting family in Nevada and California. When the bus began moving, Claudia mistakenly believed it was leaving without them and ran to stop it. She was struck and killed. Another passenger grabbed Cristina and pulled her to safety.

Cristina was seven years old when her mother was killed. She plans to enroll in college this year.

State Releases Map for New 70 mph Highway Speed Limit

As of January 1, nearly 90 percent of Illinois’ interstate highway miles have 70 mph speed limits. However, in much of the Chicago area, the existing speed limits will not be changed, according to a map released by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT).

The sponsor of the law that raised speed limits said that Chicago-area limits should also be raised.

On nearly 1,900 of almost 2,170 miles of Illinois interstate highways, the speed limit is now 70 mph, an increase from a generally 65 mph limit for rural interstates. However, only approximately 30 percent of the 286-mile Illinois Tollway’s network will see an increased speed limit. Also, according to IDOT, only five relatively short sections of interstate in the Chicago area will have their speed limits raised, leaving the 55 mph speed limit in much of the Chicago area unchanged.

State Sen. Jim Oberweis, Republican of Sugar Grove, sponsored the bill that raised the speed limit. He said the limit should be raised in the Chicago area as well. IDOT had the authority to create the speed limit map, but Oberweis said the department is putting “citizens into danger.”

According to Oberweis, 85 percent of vehicles are traveling 70 mph or faster on most interstate highways, and the variation in speed limits can be a factor in automobile accidents. He said that by not raising the speed limit in most of the Chicago area, IDOT was ignoring “the will of the people.” Oberweis owns a dairy that operates trucks on the highways.

A recent analysis by the Chicago Tribune found that the “actual” speed limit in the Chicago area — the speed at which most drivers are ticketed — is 80 mph. The Tribune’s research found that 90 percent of vehicles exceed the posted 55 mph speed limit on the tollway, where the average speed is 66-70 mph.

In a statement, IDOT claimed that the speed limit would be raised on stretches of interstate highway where it is deemed safe and reasonable. IDOT said it considered the 85th percentile (the widely accepted standard of the speed at which 85 percent of vehicles are moving at or below) and other considerations. According to the IDOT statement, the department’s top priority is driver safety, and it will continue reviewing speed limits as needed.

Oberweis said that he will attempt to bring his drive for higher Chicago-area speed limits to the legislature. He said that 70 mph is a reasonable, safe and consistent speed, but that he may settle for a limit of 65 mph.

New Headlight Technologies May Help Prevent Car Accidents

Advances in headlight technology may help make cars safer and reduce the number of auto accidents worldwide.

The Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) is evaluating these technologies through its Transportation Lighting and Safety program, which examines approaches to driving safely at night.

There is a greater risk for car accidents at night than there is during the day. Many roadways in the United States do not have adequate lighting. As such, headlights are a crucial safety feature, and they can and should be improved. Any nighttime driver will be familiar with two headlight issues currently being addressed by researchers: the fact that it can be difficult to see where one is going when the car is turning or on a curve, and the blinding effect that glare from other drivers’ high beam headlights can have. These issues are common annoyances for drivers, but they are major safety concerns as well. Researchers are working to address both issues.

Senior Research Scientist John Bullough recently presented research results on swiveling headlight systems at the International Symposium on Automotive Lighting in Darmstadt, Germany. His paper, “Applying visual performance modeling to adaptive curve lighting safety data,” examined swiveling headlights designed to shine light onto the curves of a roadway when a car is turning. Field studies indicated that these headlight systems led to an estimated 4 percent reduction in nighttime crash frequency along sharp curves and a 1 to 2 percent reduction along shallower curves. The idea of headlights that turn along with a car has been around for decades, and it is already a feature in some European cars. As evidence of their potential to prevent car accidents grows, the feature will likely become available for more American cars.

Bullough also presented research results on adaptive headlights that reduce glare at the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology’s The Eye, The Brain and The Auto conference. His paper, “Adaptive vehicle lighting, visual performance and safety,” examined adaptive headlight systems that allow drivers to use high beams while selectively dimming a portion of the beam to avoid temporarily blinding other drivers with glare. Research suggests that these systems could reduce nighttime crashes by nearly 7 percent.

A model for relative visual performance developed by the Lighting Research Center at RPI formed the basis for both studies. The studies were funded by the Transportation Lighting Alliance, which includes major vehicle and lighting manufacturers.

Thirteen Million Dollars Awarded in Birth Injury Lawsuit

A Michigan jury has awarded $13 million to a woman who claimed that medical errors during childbirth left her daughter disfigured and unable to fully use her right arm.

The large verdict was awarded September 27, 2013 to Libbey Bryson of Flint, Michigan after a 12-day trial. The defendant hospital indicated that it was considering an appeal.

The lawsuit claimed that doctors pulled too hard on Bryson’s daughter’s head after she got stuck during childbirth on January 1, 2008. According to the suit, the baby’s arm became stuck on the pelvic bone, and when doctors pulled on the baby’s head, nerves controlling the baby’s right arm were severed. The lawsuit also claimed that doctors should have performed a Caesarean section. Court records showed that a C-section was neither requested nor offered.

Multiple surgeries have since been performed on Bryson’s daughter, and she wears a brace on her right arm. Bryson’s attorney said that the injury will require ongoing therapy. He also said that the judgment will be worth approximately $4 million once it is reduced to its present cash value and again reduced to comply with state laws capping non-economic damages.

New Device Would Limit Teen Texting While Driving

Texting while driving is a major safety issue for teens and adults. Now, the insurance company Esurance is introducing a program that parents can use to limit their children’s cell phone use while they are behind the wheel.

The DriveSafe program operates in two parts. One element is a telematics device that can be installed in the diagnostics port of any car manufactured after 1996 (except electric and hybrid vehicles). The other is an app that parents can download onto their teenager’s cell phone. The app uses Bluetooth technology to track driving habits, lock out certain cell phone functions when the car is in motion, and send parents alerts if teens are speeding or breaking other rules.

The program addresses what has become a big safety problem for teen drivers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, teens are six times more likely to be in an accident if they are dialing a cell phone while driving and 23 times more likely to be involved in a collision if they are texting while driving. Cell phone use greatly reduces teens’ reaction times, and the DriveSafe program is meant to reduce the risk.

For parents concerned that data about their teen’s driving habits may be used to increase insurance rates, Esurance states that the company will not even have access to the information. Instead, a third party will host the data, which will not be shared with Esurance.

Parents will be able to use the program to block certain functions of a smartphone while the car is in motion, such as text messaging, email, web browsing and the use of social media apps. But teens will still be able to make 911 calls, receive calls from their parents and access hands-free functions via Bluetooth. Parents receive notifications when teens accelerate too quickly, brake too hard, travel too far from home, drive past curfew or exceed the speed limit.

If teens attempt to remove the telematics device, remove the app, turn off Bluetooth or power down their phone, parents will receive an alert. The app works best with Android smartphones and with some Windows and BlackBerry devices. The iPhone does not allow third party apps to restrict iPhone functionality, so the app is limited to displaying a home screen reminding users not to use cell phones while driving.

DriveSafe is available for free from Esurance in 39 states, including Illinois.

Messenger Establishes Employment Relationship in Workers’ Compensation Case

The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission has found that a bicycle messenger was an employee of a courier service and was therefore entitled to benefits, despite an agreement stating that the messenger was an independent contractor.

The case arose from an injury the bicycle messenger received when he was struck from behind by a vehicle while making a delivery. Evidence submitted in the case indicated that the messenger and the courier service had signed an independent contractor agreement, and that the messenger had also signed an agreement with the National Independent Contractor Association. The agreements provided that the messenger would be paid by the association after deductions were made for general liability insurance and bicycle insurance, as well as for leasing fees for a radio and other equipment.

Despite the language of the agreements, the commission affirmed the decision of the arbitrator, finding that the messenger was an employee of the courier service. The commission relied on a previous decision involving the same courier service and a nearly identical independent contractor agreement. In finding that the messenger was not an independent contractor in the previous decision, the current commission noted that the courier service still exercised control over the messenger’s work schedule and other work details. The commission also considered the fact that the messenger’s work was the lifeblood of the courier service business and that the work did not involve particular skills.

In both decisions, the commission found that an employer-employee relationship existed between the messenger and the courier service.

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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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