Belleville Memorial Hospital

Justice Spomer

The Fifth Appellate Court has upheld a St. Clair County jury verdict leveled against Memorial Hospital of Belleville in 2003 in which the hospital was ordered to pay $950,000 to the family of Joyce E. Cretton and fined $129,089.90.

The hospital was sanctioned over false testimony provided by a hospital nursing supervisor.

"[W]e do not believe that the trial court erred in concluding that the defendant and its counsel were guilty of intentional deception and intentional discovery violations," wrote Justice Stephen Spomer, who delivered the court's opinion. Justices Thomas Welch and James Donovan concurred.

In a two-count suit filed in February 2000, Cecil V. Cretton and Cheryl L. Cretton claimed that Joyce Cretton, who had been hospitalized for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), was allowed to fall or was dropped and that as a result she suffered a subdural hematoma that ultimately resulted in her death in February 1999.

The Cretton family prevailed at trial on survival action but not on wrongful death in August 2003.

Memorial Hospital appealed the decision on several grounds, arguing that the sanctions were unwarranted and prejudicial, among other things. The hospital also argued for a new trial because of the appearance of judicial impropriety; errant evidentiary rulings; prejudicial and inappropriate comments by plaintiffs' during trial and during closing arguments and cumulative errors.

St. Clair County Circuit Judge Robert LeChien presided at trial.

Memorial argued that LeChien improperly commented on defense witnesses in front of the jury and that he failed to adequately address negative media coverage of the trial.

"The judge in this case acted conscientiously and showed fairness, impartiality, and restraint when dealing with a belligerent defendant," Spomer wrote. "There was no error."

The hospital argued that Joyce Cretton's pain and suffering resulted from her COPD rather than from the accident, but the appellate court declined to "usurp the jury's role" in questions of fact submitted at trial.

Spomer wrote that the defendant "only mentions in passing" in a brief that the amount of damages awarded by the jury on the plaintiffs' survival action, $950,000, was almost twice the amount suggested by plaintiffs' counsel in closing arguments, $500,000.

"The defendant does not develop any cogent argument in its opening brief that, assuming an award of damages was permissibile, the amount awarded was excessive, and accordingly it has waived a consideration of that argument by this court," Spomer wrote.

The Crettons were represented by Judy Cates and Candice Kusmer of the Cates Law Firm in Swansea.

Memorial Hospital was represented by attorneys from Baker & McKenzie in Chicago and from Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale in St. Louis.

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