The experienced Illinois medical malpractice attorneys at Passen & Powell conduct a thorough investigation into the facts and circumstances of each case, and seek to put before a jury at trial all evidence which demonstrates that a doctor acted negligently, and which shows the full extent of damage caused to the patient as a result. One area of evidence which may be important for a particular case, but has frequently been excluded by the courts in Illinois, is information concerning a doctor’s financial motive to perform the medical procedures at issue.
In particular, evidence that a doctor had a financial motive to perform an unnecessary medical procedure, which results in substantial injury to the patient, can be very persuasive in certain medical malpractice cases, yet this type of information has routinely been held inadmissible by the courts. In a recent appellate court opinion, however, the Illinois Appellate Court has dramatically altered the landscape for such financial motive evidence, and recognized the common-sense rule that this type of information may be relevant, and therefore admissible, in medical malpractice cases.
In Martinez v. Elias, No. 1-08-0265, (Ill. App. Ct. 1st Dist., Dec. 28, 2009), the Illinois appellate court was confronted with allegations of medical malpractice involving back surgery complications. The plaintiff, Thomas Martinez, experienced back problems after an accident at work. After a series of evaluations, his doctor, defendant Sarmed Elias, M.D., performed a procedure known as a discogram to determine the extent of his injuries, and whether surgery should be performed.
Using the procedure, Dr. Elias concluded that back surgery was appropriate and would be helpful in Mr. Martinez’s case. Unfortunately, the subsequent surgery resulted in substantial spinal nerve damage, leaving Mr. Martinez with pain radiating down his side and leg, and even greater problems with mobility going forward. Mr. Martinez then brought a legal action against Dr. Elias and his practice, alleging medical malpractice.
Unlike the typical medical malpractice lawsuit, Mr. Martinez did not allege that Dr. Elias negligently performed the surgery, or that the radiating nerve pain was a possible complication of which he had not been advised. Instead, Mr. Martinez alleged that his back surgery was unnecessary, was unlikely to be of benefit to him due to the nature of his back problems, and should never have been performed. Mr. Martinez alleged that because a discogram is an unusual and disfavored procedure with a high rate of error due to its subjective nature, it was an inappropriate diagnostic tool, and certainly should not have been performed and interpreted by the physician who would be conducting any subsequent surgery.
In support of his allegations, Mr. Martinez introduced expert testimony about the problematic nature of discograms. His experts further testified that a discogram should never be performed by the operating surgeon, because that surgeon has a financial interest in the outcome of the test: if the test is interpreted to show operable back problems, then the surgeon will reap the financial reward of performing that surgery. Over the objection of the defense, the trial court allowed this testimony.
Dr. Elias appealed. The appellate court first recognized a line of authority excluding evidence of financial motive in Illinois medical malpractice cases. The court noted that motive is not an element of medical malpractice – the negligent performance of medical duties is malpractice regardless of the good intentions of the doctor involved. Thus, financial motive testimony is generally irrelevant.
The court found, however, that this general rule must give way to the facts of a particular case. Rather than blindly excluding evidence that can be irrelevant, trial courts must examine whether it is in fact relevant given the circumstances and allegations in a particular case. In Mr. Martinez’s case, the medical negligence alleged was that the discogram should not be performed by the treating surgeon because he has a financial interest in the outcome of the test. Mr. Martinez alleged that Dr. Elias interpreted the test results improperly due to his financial interest, and therefore performed unnecessary surgery that caused him permanent harm. The Illinois Appellate Court held that testimony concerning Dr. Elias’s financial motive was central to the particular malpractice alleged, and was properly admitted by the trial court.
This holding takes a practical approach to the admission of evidence, and in that way is no more than the court’s use of common sense. But from another perspective, the court’s opinion is groundbreaking. The court’s opinion set aside a rule that has been hampering the introduction of relevant and persuasive evidence for almost 20 years. In doing so, the court reaffirmed what our Illinois personal injury lawyers have known all along: that the victims of medical malpractice must be allowed to present their case, which demonstrates the defendants’ negligence and the resulting injury – regardless of what may or may not be appropriate in other cases.
For the victims of medical malpractice, this opinion is encouraging. If you or someone you love has been harmed by the negligence of a doctor or hospital, a top Chicago medical malpractice lawyer from Passen & Powell can help you to uncover all the evidence of that negligence, and make sure that it is admitted in court so that you receive full compensation, and justice.
For a free consultation with an experienced Chicago personal injury lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500.