Surgery Complications Lead to Woman's Wrongful Death

The personal injury attorneys of Chicago law firm Peter Higgins Law represented the adult children of a 55 year old woman who suffered a head injury when she fell down concrete steps at a friend's house and went into a coma. The woman was rushed to Cook County Hospital where she had surgery to insert a tracheostomy tube through her neck, into her trachea and down to her lungs so she could breathe.

After about a month, while still at Cook County Hospital, the woman woke up from her coma and started to breathe on her own, so the tube was removed. About a week later, because of continued breathing difficulties, the woman's doctors decided that the tube had to be surgically reinserted again.

Prior to the surgery, however, even though the doctors knew that there was some type of blockage in her trachea that was causing the breathing difficulties; they decided not to do a CT scan, which may have shown the blockage. Instead, they went into surgery blindly.

When the surgeon attempted to reinsert the tube, the tip of the tube became lodged into some tissue in her trachea, preventing any air from passing through the tube. Essentially this caused the woman's suffocation and death.

When she died, our client's mother was unmarried, unemployed and essentially homeless. She and her 20 year old daughter (and the daughter's two children) had been living with relatives or at shelters in the few years before her death. When the daughter first came to the attorneys at Peter Higgins Law looking for our help, things looked bleak.

There were two "expert surgeons" who had reviewed the medical records and told our client that she had no medical malpractice case. Finally, we found a Harvard educated ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon from Boston who reviewed the records and determined that a CT scan would have been required in this patient's situation. Doing so probably would have revealed where the blockage in the trachea was so the Cook County surgeon could have bypassed it. Upon discovering this, Peter Higgins Law filed a wrongful death suit against Cook County Hospital.

Throughout the case, Cook County Hospital claimed that its doctors did nothing wrong and refused to accept responsibility for the woman's death. The County's expert witness, a renowned Chicago ENT surgeon, concluded that a CT scan would not have made a difference here. Instead, he claimed that our client's mother, a life-long smoker and drinker, died because of a preexisting heart and lung condition rather than anything the Cook County doctors did wrong.

Successful Resolution: $1,000,000

The County fought the case hard. They brought a Motion to have the medical malpractice case thrown out of court based upon the Tort Immunity Act. They argued that the law of Illinois gave the County immunity from liability in cases like this. Peter Higgins Law team of personal injury attorneys vigorously opposed the Motion and, after months of briefs and court hearings, the judge denied the Motion and allowed the case to go to trial.

Cook County never made any settlement offers to our client. After all of the investigation, discovery and Motions were completed the case finally went to trial. After a two week trial, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of our client, resulting in a $1 million medical malpractice settlement.

The Illinois lawyers of Peter Higgins Law represent personal injury clients from all walks of life. Our team works to fully investigate the claims of all clients. If you have questions about a case, contact us to schedule a free consultation.