Chicago jury orders downstate hospital system, dialysis clinic to pay $41M to lawyer who suffered stroke, paralysis

A jury in Chicago has ordered Peoria-based OSF Healthcare and other medical care providers to pay $41 million to a 72-year-old central Illinois lawyer and his wife, after the man was left incapacitated by a catastrophic stroke, allegedly as a result of “mismanagement” of his medical care by physicians and other health care providers at facilities in central Illinois.

The jury delivered the verdict on May 10 in favor of Craig and Susan Pierce, in their lawsuit against OSF and Fresenius Medical Care, an international company providing kidney dialysis and other renal care at clinics throughout Illinois and elsewhere.

According a release from the Pierces’ lawyers, the $41 million verdict represented a record award ordered by a jury in a medical malpractice in Illinois for a victim over the age of 70.

The Pierces were represented by attorneys from the firm of Hurley McKenna & Mertz, of Chicago.

The Pierces filed suit in Cook County Circuit Court in 2020 against Fresenius, affiliated companies and a nephrologist, Dr. Sudha Cherukuri, who oversaw operations at a Fresenius clinic in Macomb in McDonough County in western Illinois.

During depositions, the Pierces’ lawyers learned that Pierce had received care at OSF facilities, as well, and added the large healthcare system as a defendant.

According to court documents, Pierce practiced law in Bushnell, a city of about 2,700 residents in McDonough County, about 60 miles west of Peoria, and more than three and a half hours drive from Chicago.

According to court documents, Pierce, at the age of 64, was admitted to OSF St. Francis Hospital in Peoria for treatment of pneumonia in February 2016. The pneumonia treatment caused kidney injuries, which, in turn, required Pierce to undergo short-term dialysis under the care of nephrologists. At OSF, a cardiologist also allegedly diagnosed a common heart condition, known as atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, in which the heart has an abnormal rhythm.

According to court documents, doctors then placed Pierce on a blood thinner to reduce his risk of stroke from AFib.

Pierce was discharged in mid March 2016, and was directed to continue taking the blood thinner medication Coumadin and undergo regular blood testing to ensure his blood was clotting correctly.

He also was directed to continue undergoing dialysis treatment at the Fresenius clinic in Macomb under the care of physicians led by Cherukuri and his practice, identified as Renal Care Associates.

However, allegedly while under the care of Fresenius and Renal Care Associates, Pierce’s condition deteriorated and he suffered a catastrophic stroke on April 13, 2016. According to court documents, brain scans revealed a large clot had cut off blood circulation to most of the right side of his brain.

According to court documents, the stroke left Pierce paralyzed on the left side of his body, and with “severe cognitive deficits.” He has been unable to care for himself or continue his work.

According to the complaint, OSF had a clinic on site at its Peoria hospital to manage Pierce’s condition, but allegedly instead wrongly trusted the dialysis clinic could manage Pierce’s Coumadin and his AFib condition.

At trial, OSF and Fresenius/Renal Care Associates each said the other was to blame for allegedly mismanaging Pierce’s care.

The trial in Cook County was made possible after Cook County Judge Thomas V. Lyons and a state appeals panel from the First District Appellate Court both rejected attempts by OSF and the other defendants to bring the case to trial in McDonough County, rather than Cook County.

Cook County has been rated by legal reform advocates as one of the most plaintiff-friendly court systems in America, routinely among the leaders for delivering large verdicts for plaintiffs in any number of cases. Cook County also consistently ranks among the busiest and most congested court systems in America.

The Chicago judges who heard the matter, however, all refused to allow the case to be transferred back to central Illinois.

The courts all acknowledged Pierce was not a resident of Chicago or its surrounding suburbs; all of his medical care took place in central Illinois, more than 200 miles from Chicago; and he suffered his injuries in care received in McDonough County and neighboring Knox County.

But the judges said the case could be kept in Chicago, before a jury from Cook County, because it was enough that Pierce and the medical clinics where the alleged mismanaged care occurred were in Illinois; Pierce’s brother lives in DuPage County; and Fresenius operates clinics in Cook County. They also noted some of the witnesses called by the plaintiffs would be from Chicago and nearby areas, or from out of state.

The appellate court issued its ruling on the motion to transfer in 2022.

The trial in Cook County began April 10, 2024, and the jury rendered its verdict about a month later.

With the verdict in place, defendants can ask Judge Lyons to grant a new trial or reverse or reduce the verdict. They can also appeal.

A spokesperson for OSF Healthcare declined comment on the verdict.

In a statement, the Pierces’ attorney, Christopher Hurley, of the Hurley McKenna & Mertz firm said: “The jury’s verdict is bittersweet for this wonderful family, which has been devastated by Craig Pierce’s injury and the loss of his ability to function independently and practice law. Craig was a pillar of his community as a successful lawyer and member of his local school board. During the month-long trial, the jury carefully considered all of the evidence and rendered a just verdict. Craig Pierce will now receive the 24 hour per day care that he needs and deserves.”

This article was first published in Cook County Record.

Leave a Reply