Steed v. Rezin Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, SC, 012221 ILSC, 125150

Docket Nº:125150
Opinion Judge:OVERSTREET, JUSTICE
Party Name:SUSAN STEED, as Independent Administrator of the Estate of Glenn Steed, Deceased, Appellee, v. REZIN ORTHOPEDICS AND SPORTS MEDICINE, S.C., Appellant.
Judge Panel:JUSTICE OVERSTREET delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Chief Justice Anne M. Burke and Justices Garman, Theis, Neville, Michael J. Burke, and Carter concurred in the judgment and opinion.
Case Date:January 22, 2021
Court:Supreme Court of Illinois

2021 IL 125150

SUSAN STEED, as Independent Administrator of the Estate of Glenn Steed, Deceased, Appellee,

v.

REZIN ORTHOPEDICS AND SPORTS MEDICINE, S.C., Appellant.

No. 125150

Supreme Court of Illinois

January 22, 2021

JUSTICE OVERSTREET delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Chief Justice Anne M. Burke and Justices Garman, Theis, Neville, Michael J. Burke, and Carter concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

OVERSTREET, JUSTICE

¶ 1 The plaintiff, Susan Steed, as independent administrator of the estate of Glenn Steed, filed a wrongful death and survival action against the defendant, Stephen H. Treacy, M.D., alleging medical negligence for his failure to diagnose and treat a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in Glenn's injured leg before the DVT progressed to a fatal pulmonary embolism, and against the defendant, Rezin Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, SC (Rezin Orthopedics), alleging institutional negligence that caused Glenn's death. After trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendants, and the circuit court denied the plaintiffs request for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (judgment n.o.v.) against Rezin Orthopedics. The plaintiff directed her motion for judgment n.o.v. against Rezin Orthopedics only and appealed the verdict in favor of Rezin Orthopedics only. On appeal, the appellate court reversed the Will County circuit court's judgment and remanded the cause with directions to enter judgment n.o.v. in favor of the plaintiff and against Rezin Orthopedics and to hold a new trial on the sole issue of damages. 2019 IL App (3d) 170299-U. We allowed Rezin Orthopedics' petition for leave to appeal (Ill. S.Ct. R. 315 (eff. July 1, 2018)).

¶ 2 The issues presented in this appeal involve whether the appellate court properly directed judgment n.o.v. in the plaintiffs favor and, alternatively, whether the plaintiff is entitled to a new trial because the verdict was against the manifest weight of the evidence or because the circuit court allowed allegedly irrelevant and prejudicial evidence and argument at trial. For the following reasons, we reverse the judgment of the appellate court and affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

¶ 3 BACKGROUND

¶ 4 On January 29, 2009, Glenn suffered a partial tear of his Achilles tendon. On February 17, 2009, Glenn first sought treatment for his injury from Dr. Treacy, a medical doctor specializing in orthopedic surgery at Rezin Orthopedics. Dr. Treacy, at the Plainfield office of Rezin Orthopedics, noted Glenn's history, including that he was 42 years old and borderline obese, physically examined him, and diagnosed his injury. Dr. Treacy's treatment plan included placing Glenn's lower right leg in a plantar flexion position, with his ankle pointed in a downward direction, set in a plaster cast for six weeks. Dr. Treacy memorialized his recommendation for Glenn to return for a follow-up appointment in two weeks in a "super bill," a form used by Rezin Orthopedics to generate an invoice for physician services. Two weeks from Glenn's initial appointment with Dr. Treacy calculated to March 3, 2009. In addition to the follow-up appointment, Glenn required an appointment within a day or two for cast placement. Glenn chose not to be casted at his initial visit because he had driven himself to the appointment.

¶ 5 Accordingly, following Glenn's appointment on February 17, 2009, Dr. Treacy directed Rezin Orthopedics receptionist Jodi Decker to schedule a two-week follow-up appointment. Decker scheduled Glenn's casting appointment for February 19, 2009, at the Joliet office of Rezin Orthopedics but did not schedule the follow-up appointment. After Glenn's leg was casted on February 19, 2009, the receptionist, Victoria Hare, scheduled Glenn's follow-up appointment for March 13, 2009, more than three weeks subsequent to his initial February 17, 2009, appointment with Dr. Treacy. On February 25, 2009, Glenn telephoned Rezin Orthopedics, and the receptionist, Rossana Popplewell, rescheduled Glenn's follow-up office visit for one day earlier than originally scheduled, March 12, 2009, instead of March 13, 2009. On March 8, 2009, Glenn died of a pulmonary embolism.

¶ 6 On July 13, 2012, the plaintiff filed a fourth amended complaint, alleging a wrongful death and survival action against Dr. Treacy, which is not at issue here, and Rezin Orthopedics. In her complaint, the plaintiff alleged that Rezin Orthopedics negligently failed to monitor Glenn's condition, failed to timely schedule a follow-up appointment for Glenn pursuant to the physician's order, failed to communicate Glenn's concerns to a physician following his February 25, 2009, telephone call, failed to advise Glenn of risks during the telephone call, and failed to advise Glenn to return to its office or seek immediate medical care during the telephone call. The plaintiff alleged that, as a direct and proximate result of these failures, a DVT and resulting pulmonary embolism were not discovered, diagnosed, and/or treated, resulting in Glenn's death on March 8, 2009.

¶ 7 Prior to trial, the circuit court granted the plaintiffs motion in limine number 10, seeking to bar defense witnesses from testifying about why Glenn's follow-up appointment was set for March 13, 2009. With regard to the defendant's motion in limine number 32, seeking to bar as hearsay the plaintiffs testimony recounting her husband's description of the content of his February 25, 2009, telephone conversation with Rezin Orthopedics, the circuit court barred the plaintiffs testimony as to what Glenn had told her about his statements to the receptionist and what Glenn had told her about the receptionist's response. The circuit court allowed the plaintiffs testimony regarding the complaints Glenn voiced to her directly.

¶ 8 Jury Trial

¶ 9 At trial in November 2016, the plaintiff, Glenn's widow, testified that when Glenn returned home from cast placement by Rezin Orthopedics, he remained uncomfortable and achy from acclimating to the cast and the crutches. The plaintiff testified that four or five days later Glenn reported to her that the achiness in his leg felt weird and tight, and on February 25, 2009, Glenn phoned Rezin Orthopedics. The plaintiff testified that, prior to his phone call to Rezin Orthopedics, Glenn had been elevating his leg on the ottoman but that the elevation had not resolved the tightness. The plaintiff testified that, subsequent to the phone call, Glenn elevated his leg even higher and iced behind his knee and that he also began taking an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, which somewhat alleviated his pain. The plaintiff testified that the achiness and tightness in Glenn's leg lingered but did not worsen. The plaintiff testified, however, that late in the evening of March 7, 2009, Glenn experienced pain in his right thigh for the first time. The plaintiff testified that they had planned for Glenn to telephone Rezin Orthopedics the following Monday morning, but on Sunday morning, March 8, 2009, Glenn died as a result of suffering a pulmonary embolism.

¶ 10 Dr. Treacy testified that when he examined Glenn on February 17, 2009, Glenn reported swelling and pain in his right ankle. During the examination, Dr. Treacy identified mild swelling of Glenn's lower leg but noted that the pain and swelling had been resolving. Dr. Treacy explained that by placing Glenn's lower right leg in a cast, in a plantar flexion position, Glenn's ankle joint would remain stationary. Dr. Treacy explained that Glenn's injury to the leg and the resulting treatment of immobilizing the ankle with a cast were risk factors for a DVT, which he addressed during Glenn's examination.

¶ 11 Dr. Treacy explained that a DVT involves a deep vein blood clot in an extremity that may cause no harm or significant harm. Dr. Treacy opined that occlusion of a vessel may affect blood flow and cause swelling, pain, and other problems. Dr. Treacy further explained that, with a DVT, the blood clot may break free from the wall of the vessels and move up the vein toward the lungs, becoming a life-threatening event called a pulmonary embolism. Dr. Treacy testified, however, that most DVTs are asymptomatic, with no signs or symptoms associated with the blood clot in the deep vein, and are dissolved by the body. Dr. Treacy testified that the percentage risk of a symptomatic DVT occurring in a lower extremity injury, after foot and ankle surgery for example, is 1% or less. Dr. Treacy testified that there remained a dearth of literature regarding nonsurgical patients experiencing a DVT.

¶ 12 Dr. Treacy testified that he outlined for Glenn a general treatment program that included a two-week follow-up appointment, even though it would have been reasonable for Glenn to return in three weeks for a follow-up appointment. Dr. Treacy nevertheless testified that, if a Rezin Orthopedics receptionist encountered an issue with scheduling Glenn within the two-week time frame he had recommended, he would have expected her to seek permission to change the time frame.

¶ 13 Dr. Treacy testified that he was anticipating at the two-week time frame to modify Glenn's cast from a plantar flexion position to a more neutral position so that Glenn may begin to bear weight, to evaluate whether the tissue was healing to determine whether surgical treatment or a different cast type may be necessary, and to identify the next step in Glenn's course of treatment. Dr. Treacy testified that he intended to assess Glenn's healing process, document his history, and physically examine him, much like the physical examination completed on February 17, 2009.

¶ 14 Dr. Treacy testified that he would expect swelling to result from Glenn's injury, but he acknowledged that...

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