Appellate court upholds defense verdict in St. Clair Co. wrongful death suit

Christina Stueve Sep. 27, 2011, 11:38am


The Fifth District Appellate Court of Illinois on Sept. 15 upheld a jury verdict in favor of the defense in a wrongful death lawsuit against a Belleville doctor.

Ronnika Watson brought a wrongful death suit against Dr. Danuta Pikul in St. Clair County Court for allegedly neglecting to diagnose and treat a bacterial infection, resulting in the death of her son.

In a trial in Judge Andrew Gleeson's court, a jury ruled in favor of Dr. Pikul.

Watson argued for another trial, claiming the court made an error in refusing her modified jury instruction.

According to the case history, at 12:30 a.m. April 22, 2000, Watson brought her 17-year-old son, Darrell Banks, to the emergency room at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Belleville. He had a rash and an extremely high fever and was vomiting and acting lethargic.

Dr. Pikul was the attending emergency room physician and he periodically monitored and treated Banks for several hours before he stopped breathing and was pronounced dead at 3:45 a.m., the original complaint states. An autopsy showed the adrenal glands hemorrhaged and were destroyed from the infection in the blood, according to the suit.

During trial, plaintiff's expert Dr. Marc Weber testified the defendant "deviated from generally accepted standards of practicing in failing to diagnose the presence of a serious or significant bacterial infection."

Dr. Weber had the opinion that the defendant should have identified Bank's infection sooner than she did, and should have given Banks intravenous fluids and antibiotics immediately.

The defendant's failure to provide proper treatment decreased Banks' chance of survival and caused his death, Dr. Weber said.

During cross examination, Dr. Weber acknowledged that Banks' bacterial infection had progressed very rapidly and that Banks had exhibited "flu-like symptoms" when he arrived at the emergency room. Dr. Weber further acknowledged that Dr. Pikul had not been advised that laboratory tests revealed the presence of Neisseria meningitis in Banks' bloodstream until 2:45 a.m.

When asked whether giving Banks antibiotics the moment he entered the hospital would have made a difference in the outcome, Dr. Weber testified it probably would not have made a difference. Dr. Weber also agreed that even if Banks had been promptly treated with antibiotics, his chance of survival was "very small."

The record indicates the defendant denied Dr. Weber's expert opinions through the testimony of Dr. Jeffrey Graff and Dr. Gregory Storch. The record further states both doctors gave the opinion that the defendant's treatment of Banks was considered acceptable care, that even if Banks' infection was discovered sooner, it would still have been fatal, and there was no lost chance of survival under the circumstances. It appears the plaintiff and the defense testified and gave varying versions of what had occurred in the emergency room before and after Banks' death.

The Fifth District denied Watson's request for a new trial.

Jonathan F. Adres of Clayton, Mo., represented the plaintiff, and James Mendillo of Belleville represented the defendant.

Case No. 5-10-0371

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