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Medical Justice

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Plaintiff Receives Nine Figure Personal Injury Settlement. Oh My.

01/22/18 9:00 AM

In Illinois, a jury awarded a plaintiff $148 million. The state’s previous record was a $47 million medical malpractice settlement in 2017.

The defendant, the Chicago Department of Aviation, was able to negotiate the verdict down to $115M. Whew. The plaintiff accepted to avoid the risk of an appeal…

Now, about the case.

The plaintiff was in a pedestrian shelter at Chicago O’Hare International Airport. A storm rolled through the area. As the plaintiff was waiting to be picked up, the 750 pound shelter became loose and fell on her.

At the time of her injury, she was a dancer and college student. She suffered broken vertebrae and a spinal cord injury. She was left paraplegic.

Investigation revealed the shelter was missing several bolts to secure its stability. Further investigation revealed other shelters were poorly maintained with missing bolts, corroded parts, or broken brackets.

The defendant agreed to the reduced negotiated settlement because its insurance carrier agreed to make the full payment and Chicago taxpayers would not bear any costs.

While no reasonable person would begrudge the plaintiff being entitled to some compensation, the question is where does one draw the line. Yes, she will have medical expenses for the rest of her life. Yes, her injury will cut into her ability to earn a living. Yes, she had, and will have, pain and suffering.

But, patients with more debilitating injuries are typically compensated with far less.

My larger point is that such eye-popping payouts are capricious and arbitrary.

The deeper the pocket, the more likely the payout.

Had the defendant been a physician in a med mal case, the carrier would have paid out policy limits, leaving the doctor to file for bankruptcy. Yes, I’ve made a leap here. Most doctors do not have $147M of disposable cash to pay the difference.

A system that normalized tort payments across the entire population would be fairer. It would be more predictable. And, ultimately, more just. What do you think? Share your comments below.

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Posted by Medical Justice | in Legal | 5 Comments »

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Carla H Schlissel, DDSArmando Russo, MDEasyEJoseph HortonretiredMD Recent comment authors
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This is just another outrageous example of the lottery system in plaintiff judgements. Yes the defendant is at fault. But in the long history of jurisprudence, has an outrageous plaintiff award every stopped every single instance of egregious malfeasance such as the poor maintenance of shelters? Unfortunately as long as humans are involved there will be mistakes and fault. But does that mean that we all as citizens have to pay a hidden 3% (or more now) tax for liability insurance costs? Were attorneys not compensated for 1/3 of these settlements, would they be as likely to take on these… Read more »

Joseph Horton
Joseph Horton

Know anything about unions in Chicago? They’re the guys who run pretty much everything. I’ll bet you everything I own and then some that building the shelter and maintaining it was union work. It’s pretty much impossible to fire a union worker, as everyone pretty well knows. In fact, finding the individual who erred here will be impossible unless he was caught on camera. The specific union involved can be notified, but Chicago’s religious symbiosis with its unions will prevent the culpable from paying anywhere close to a single dime of the settlement. If the guilty are held responsible, there… Read more »


Spot on as always.

Armando Russo, MD
Armando Russo, MD

retiredMD got it right. The American common law tort system of jurisprudence fails many of the elements modern society has demanded of other disciplines which have had to re-engineer their operations to make the public safe. We have done this in healthcare and the beneficiary is the patient accessing one of our facilities. We have a lot more work to do but we are well on the road to measurable improvements in patient safety. What have legislatures, the judiciary and officers of the court done to make the civil justice (and criminal justice) system to make the legal system more… Read more »

Carla H Schlissel, DDS
Carla H Schlissel, DDS

It all comes down to tort reform. And since most of Congress are attorneys, or part of our esteemed legal system, and tort reform would probably impact their practices I won’t hold my breath. And attorneys being able to collect 33% of awards really lends itself to abuse of the legal system.