Fifth District remands med mal case to Madison County with directions

By Bethany Krajelis | Oct 31, 2012

The Fifth District Appellate Court has affirmed one order and reversed another in a Madison County medical malpractice case.

While the appeals panel affirmed Madison County Circuit Judge Andreas Mateosian’s order denying the defendants’ motions to transfer the matter, it reversed an order that denied one defendant’s request to sever and transfer third-party claims against it.

In its opinion released late last week, the panel remanded the matter with directions that the circuit court sever the third-party claims against Jersey Community Hospital and transfer them to Jersey County.

Justice Stephen Spomer delivered the judgment. Justices Thomas Welch and Melissa Chapman concurred.

The ruling stems from a March 2010 complaint that Cindy Shaw brought in St. Clair County Circuit Court against St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, Passavant Memorial Area Hospital in Jacksonville, Thomas H. Boyd Hospital in Carrollton and several doctors.

Shaw sued for medical malpractice, claiming the defendants failed to diagnose and treat her for pseudotumor cerebri, a condition she “alleges ultimately caused her to become blind,” according to the appellate court opinion.

In July 2010, the St. Clair County Circuit Court transferred the case to Madison County. Shaw requested the move after the defendants asked the matter to be transferred to Jersey County.

The defendants claimed that Shaw’s medical records showed she received treatment in several counties and that Jersey County would be the most convenient.

Shaw, however, argued Madison County would be best because she and her child’s father lived there, as well as important witnesses.

While the motions to transfer were pending, Passavant Memorial Area Hospital filed a third-party complaint for contribution against Jersey Community Hospital, as well as cross-claims against some of the other defendants.

The defendants sought transfer to Jersey County, claiming that state law requires suits against public corporations to be filed in the county where its principal office is located and that third-party actions must be tried with the underlying claim.

In February 2011, Mateosian denied the defendants’ motions to transfer for improper venue and forum non conveniens, but granted Jersey Community Hospital leave to file a motion to sever the claims against it and transfer them to Jersey County.

Mateosian eventually denied the hospital’s motion, which spurred the defendants to file a petition for leave to appeal the judge’s order.

Jersey Community Hospital also filed a petition for leave to appeal, as well as a motion to dismiss the third-party contribution claims. It alleged that it has immunity under the Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act.

Mateosian, who stayed ruling on the hospital’s motion to dismiss pending the outcome of this appeal, denied both petitions for leave to appeal.

The Illinois Supreme Court, in a September 2011 supervisory order, directed the Fifth District Appellate Court “to vacate the orders denying the petitions for leave to appeal and to consider both appeals on their merits,” the opinion states.

In affirming the lower court’s order denying the defendant’s motion to transfer the case, Spomer wrote that Illinois law does not require third-party claims and the underlying claim to be tried together.

Citing Cook v. General Electric Co., Spomer wrote that the state high court “made clear that Illinois law does not require that contribution actions invariable be tried together with the underlying action."

The Cook court, he added, "recognized that such a holding would allow defendants to change venue whenever they chose merely by filing a complaint for contribution against a governmental entity.”

In regards to Jersey Community Hospital’s motion to sever claims against it, the appellate court looked to 735 ILCS 5/2-103, which states, “Actions must be brought against a public, municipal, governmental or quasi-municipal corporation in the county in which its principal office is located or in the county in which the transaction or some part thereof occurred out of which the cause of action arose.”

This, Spomer wrote, makes it clear that contribution claims against Jersey Community Hospital in this case must be heard in Jersey County because that is where the hospital’s principal office is located.

As such, the appellate court reversed Mateosian’s denial order and remanded it back to the circuit court with directions to sever the claims against Jersey Community Hospital and transfer them to Jersey County.

The case is Cindy M. Shaw v. St. John’s Hospital, et al., 2012 IL App (5th) 110088.

Belleville attorney Thomas Keefe represents Shaw. Among others, Belleville attorneys Timothy Richards, Michael Nester, Kenneth Burke, Ted Dennis and Jeffrey Glass represent some of the defendants.

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