Johnson & Bell Health Care Law Alert

Survey of Wrongful Death Verdicts for the Very Young and Very Old
By Sammi L. Renken

Cook County verdict values for wrongful death cases involving the very young and very old show that there is still large exposure for the right case despite the decedent’s age.  Age has typically been a mitigating factor keeping down verdicts and settlements for cases involving the very young and elderly.  However, after undertaking a review of all verdict results for Cook County in the last five years, the data reveals some very large verdicts despite the age. 

It is difficult to make sweeping conclusions from verdict reports alone especially in Cook County because there is such a wide variation from case to case, and of course, each case is dependent upon its own facts and the quality of the defense.  Additionally, it is important to note that the defense is still meritorious about two thirds more often than plaintiff at trial.  Even in Cook County it is still an up hill battle for any plaintiff.  There are also many, many reported settlements much lower than the values listed on the tables below.  However, of the cases that actually went to verdict in the last five years, it is clear there is still significant exposure in the cases that end up as a plaintiff verdict.  Below is a summary of the data for all wrongful death claims in a medical negligence case from 2005 to January, 2011, for children ages 0-9 and adults over the age of 80.

Wrongful Death Ages 0-9

Year
Age
Type of Case
Verdict
2010
7 Days
Failure to admit child from ER despite heart desaturations
$4,000,000
2010
2
Failure to monitor during CT scan
$3,662,221
2009
9
Failure to diagnose necrotizing blastomycosis
$4,016,929
2009
Neonate,
14 days
Failure to diagnose HELLP syndrome in mother (severe pre-eclapsia)
$6,171,119
2008
7
Inappropriate conscious sedation
$3,000,000
2008
4
Failure to diagnose meningitis
$7,000,000 (High/Low by doctor $985K - $1.8)
2007
0, Stillbirth
Failure to admit and perform c-section secondary to placental abruption
$1,651,166
2007
0, Stillbirth
Failure to diagnose placental abruption
$1,800,000
2006
2
Failure to advise mother of proper medication instructions
$75,000

Of forty-two verdicts reviewed that matched our search criteria of wrongful death between 2005 and 2011 of a child under 9, thirty-three had a not guilty verdict.  

Wrongful Death Ages 80+

Year
Age
Type of Case
Verdict
2008
89
Failure to administer proper hypothyroidism medication
$1,750,000
2007
84
Failure to monitor while eating/choked
$500,000
2007
91
Fall at nursing home/head trauma
$454,762
2007
88
Negligence related to off label use of
medication
$75,000 (after 50% off
$150,000 due to contributory
negligence)

Of thirteen verdicts reviewed that matched our search criteria of wrongful death between 2005-2011 of an elderly adult age 80 or older, nine were a not guilty verdict.

After review of these end of the spectrum wrongful death verdicts, it is encouraging to the defense that the majority of these verdicts were not guilty verdicts.  Also, many more were settled in a range well under $1 million dollars.  However, to dismiss a case as insignificant in value based upon the age of the decedent would be a mistake.  As shown above, hospitals and other health care providers still face significant damage exposure, despite the age of the decedent, in certain scenarios.  To best position our clients litigating these geriatric and pediatric cases, we make every effort to aggressively work up the cases from all angles and mount a reasoned defense supported by well qualified experts early in the litigation process.  We find this aggressive litigation strategy best positions us to be able to resolve the case in a reasonable range and to obtain a not guilty verdict should the case be tried.

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