Harms v. Laboratory Corp. of America

Decision Date02 August 2001
Docket NumberNo. 00 C 0718.,00 C 0718.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois
PartiesKourtney HARMS, Plaintiff, v. LABORATORY CORPORATION OF AMERICA, a/k/a Labcorp, a/k/a National Health Laboratories, Inc.—Chicago Defendant.

Catherine W. Bremer, Shawn Warner, Bremer & Warner, LLC, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff/Counter-defendants.

Michael W. Davis, Rick L. Jett, Scott L. Warner, Sidley Austin Brown & Wood, Chicago, IL, for Defendant/Counter-claimant.


ALESIA, District Judge.

Before the court are (1) plaintiff Kourtney Harms's ("Harms") motions in limine; (2) defendant Laboratory Corporation of America's ("Labcorp") motions in limine; (3) Harms's motion for summary judgment on liability; and (4) Labcorp's motion for summary judgment. The court addresses each motion below.


Labcorp, a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Delaware, is a medical laboratory that performs blood tests on specimens collected from patients at physician or clinical offices. Harms is a citizen of the state of Illinois. In 1997, blood specimens were collected from Harms at Primary Care Family Center in Libertyville, Illinois and sent to Labcorp for testing. At the time of the 1997 blood draw, Harms was pregnant and due to deliver in October 1997. After testing the specimens, Labcorp reported to Dr. Daniel Lynch ("Lynch")—Harms's primary treating physician during her pregnancy —that Harms's blood group was "O" and that her blood type was Rh positive. However, the reported results for Harms were inaccurate. In fact, Harms is group "O" but is Rh negative.

Prior to 1997, Lynch had treated Harms on various occasions, beginning in August 1990. In 1992, Harms required back surgery and was given a blood test in conjunction with that surgery. At that time, in 1992, Harms requested to know her blood type; the 1992 test showed that Harms was Rh negative. At the time of her appointments in 1997, there was a chart in Harms's file which contained the results of this 1992 blood test. Further, subsequent tests done on Harms's blood following her 1997 pregnancy showed that she was Rh negative.

In order to understand this court's opinion, one must be aware of a number of facts. For the sake of clarity, a recitation of these facts is in two parts. Part A discusses the effect of Rh sensitization. Part B discusses the events giving rise to this action.

A. Rh Sensitization2

If a pregnant woman is Rh negative, physicians generally administer a drug called Rhogram during the woman's pregnancy. This is because if the fetus is Rh positive, the woman may become sensitized to the fetus's Rh positive blood. Rhogram prevents this sensitization from occurring. If a woman becomes sensitized to the Rh factor, then she develops antibodies. Those antibodies can fight against a fetus that is Rh positive. During her pregnancy in 1997, Harms was not administered Rhogram. During Harms's appointments in 1997, Lynch reviewed only the results from Harms's 1997 blood test (and not the results of the 1992 blood test that were in Harms's file). After reviewing the 1997 results, Lynch concluded that Harms was Rh positive and, therefore, she did not need Rhogram. Following the stillbirth of her child in 1997, it was determined that Harms became sensitized to Rh positive blood. Harms claims that this sensitization is the direct result of her being pregnant with a Rh positive fetus and not being given Rhogram. In its own motion for summary judgment, Labcorp concedes this point. (Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts, ¶ 10.) However, in responding to Harms's motion for summary judgment, Labcorp disputes this point and argues that the record shows that Harms could have become sensitized during her own birth. (See Def.'s Statement of Add. Facts, ¶¶ 26-27.)

As a result of this sensitization, Harms may form Rh antibodies if she is exposed to Rh positive blood in the future which would then fight that Rh positive blood. Generally, a person's body produces antibodies to fight foreign bodies in her system. Currently, Harms has a low level of Rh antibodies in her system. Harms's level of antibodies may remain low, but if she is exposed to Rh positive blood, the level of antibodies could increase. Apart from developing Rh antibodies, Harms has not suffered any physical pain or suffering as a result of her sensitization, nor has she required medical care because of the sensitization. However, if she becomes pregnant, the sensitization could pose a risk of physical harm. (Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts, ¶ 12.) Because of her Rh sensitization, Harms could have complications during pregnancy; in fact, the record shows that there is a 60 percent chance that Harms will have some complications during any future pregnancy due to her Rh sensitization. (See, e.g., Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. Judg., Ex. G.) Further, the fetus could develop a condition called "erythroblastosis fetalis" or "hemolytic disease of the newborn" which can cause fetal harm or death. Harms has testified that she is concerned about complications in future pregnancies and possible injury to a future fetus. However, there are many factors which could affect whether any future fetus is at risk because of Harms's sensitization, including the blood type of the father.

To date, Harms has not sought any medical or psychological treatment because of her Rh sensitization. Also, Harms is currently single and not involved in any serious relationship. In addition to her Rh sensitization, Harms also has a sensitivity to Kell antigens in her blood, a result of a blood transfusion years ago.

B. Events Giving Rise to this Controversy

In February of 1997, Harms sought the treatment of Dr. Lynch at the Primary Care Family Center in Libertyville, Illinois (the "Center"). On February 21, 1997, blood specimens were collected from Harms at the Center and sent to Labcorp for testing. Specifically, Rosada Heintz ("Heintz") and Arlene Cedro ("Cedro") were the Labcorp employees involved in the testing of Harms's blood. Heintz—the technician who conducted the testing at issue—testified that she has more than forty-years experience, that at the time of testing she was aware of Labcorp's policies and standards of care, that she followed those standards in conducting the test on the specimen labeled "Harms," and that she did not become aware of the discrepancy until the current action was filed. (Def.'s Statement of Add. Facts, ¶¶ 4-10.)

At the time in question, Labcorp routinely conducted various testing on specimens for the Center. At certain times, Labcorp personnel would be on-site at the Center to draw blood from the patients. However, it was not uncommon for nurses or technicians from the Center to do a draw on a patient. Once the blood specimens were sent to Labcorp, Labcorp had exclusive control over the equipment and personnel involved in the testing. Harms claims that the blood specimen sent to Labcorp with the label Harms was, in fact, her blood. Labcorp disputes this; the record shows that Dr. Goodnough, Labcorp's expert witness, stated that it is more probable than not that the sample was Harms's blood. (Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. Judg., Ex. H at 64:15-24.)

The results for the testing done on the sample labeled "Harms" in 1997 found that the blood type was Rh positive. This result was reported to Lynch at the Center. In reliance on this 1997 test, Lynch did not administer Rhogram to Harms during her pregnancy. It is undisputed that, at the time Lynch received the 1997 results, Lynch had the results to the 1992 blood test in Harms's file. Lynch did not consult the 1992 results. If he had, then Lynch would have noticed a discrepancy in the results.

Pursuant to its own procedures, Labcorp conducts Rh testing on each specimen. Any error in blood typing has serious complications, and the standard of care for commercial laboratories strives for 100 percent accuracy. An error in blood typing is a rare occurrence and does not normally happen in the absence of negligence. When Labcorp learned of the inaccurate results for Harms's test, the Operations Manager of Labcorp's Elmhurst Facility (where the test is question was performed), Randy Chapman ("Chapman"), conducted an investigation. However, at the time of the investigation, the samples and the testing materials had already been disposed of pursuant to Labcorp's standard procedures. There was no written report filed. Although Harms claims that Labcorp's procedures required that such a written report be compiled, Labcorp claims that such a report was not required in the investigation at issue.

In the present action, Harms has brought a two-count complaint for negligence and res ipsa loquitur. Harms claims that Labcorp was negligent in conducting the tests on her blood, and, as a result, she has suffered injury caused by Labcorp's negligence. This court has subject-matter jurisdiction over the case pursuant to 28 U .S.C. § 1332.3


This matter is currently before the court on Harms's motion for summary judgment on liability and Labcorp's motion for summary judgment. In addition, both parties have filed various motions in limine. The court will address each motion in turn.

A. Labcorp's Motions in Limine

As a threshold matter, the court will dispose of Labcorp's motions in limine. Labcorp brings five motions in limine, seeking to exclude certain evidence.

1. Motion in limine # 1

In its first motion in limine, Labcorp seeks to exclude evidence of any future risks to Harms that are not reasonably medically certain to occur. Specifically, Labcorp argues that there is no evidence that any future fetus conceived by Harms will be harmed or affected by the antibody carried by Harms. Harms responds that a risk exists that a future fetus will be affected in some way, and that risk is...

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