An Illinois Appellate Court, in Longnecker v. Loyola University Medical Center, recently reversed a trial court’s order and reinstated a $2.7 million jury verdict against Loyola University Medical Center. The plaintiff, as administrator of the estate of her deceased husband, Carl Longnecker, filed a Chicago medical negligence lawsuit against Dr. Sirish Parvathaneni and Loyola Medical Center, after Mr. Longnecker died following an unsuccessful heart transplant, in which he received a diseased “hypertrophic heart.”
Although the jury fond in favor of Dr. Parvathaneni and Loyola on the professional negligence claim, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff on her theory that Loyola committed “institutional negligence” by failing to ensure that Dr. Parvathaneni understood his role as a procuring surgeon. It awarded the plaintiff $2.7 million.
After trial, the trial court found the verdict in favor of Dr. Parvathaneni to be “irreconcilable” with the verdict against Loyola, and therefore vacated the verdict against Loyola, leaving the plaintiff with nothing. The Appellate Court reversed.
In medical malpractice cases, a hospital may face liability under two separate and distinct theories: (1) vicarious liability for the medical negligence of its agents or employees; and (2) liability for its own institutional negligence. In a professional negligence case, the standard of care requires the defendant to act with the same degree of knowledge, skill and ability as an ordinarily careful professional would exercise under similar circumstances.
“Institutional negligence” involves an analogous standard of care; a defendant hospital is judged against what a reasonably careful hospital would do under the same circumstances. Unlike typical medical malpractice cases, the institutional negligence of hospitals can be determined without expert testimony in some cases.
In an institutional negligence case, a hospital owes a duty to its patients to exercise reasonable care in light of apparent risk. In Longnecker, the “apparent risk” was that a donor heart with significant hypertrophy would be accepted for transplantation. In order to avoid this risk, Loyola had a duty to ensure that each member of the heart transplant team was fully aware of his role in evaluating the donor heart for transplantation.
However, according to the plaintiff, Dr. Parvathaneni was not informed of his role to evaluate the donor heart after harvesting, not simply examining the heart while in the donor. Had he performed a physical examination of the donor heart after the heart was removed, he would have found “significant hypertrophy” of the heart. The Court found that the jury was free to draw the conclusion that the transplant surgeon would not have implanted that heart had he known of the hypertrophy.
The Court held the verdicts were not inconsistent, reversed the order of the trial court, and remanded for further proceedings — meaning that the plaintiff should have her $2.7 million jury verdict reinstated.