Untreated Crohn’s Disease Blamed for Child’s Death: Jury awards Plaintiffs estate 1.7 Million in damages

A Cook County jury returned a verdict in excess of $1.7 million in favor of the Estate of a 10-year-old girl who died in the early morning hours of November 13, 2002, just five days after seeing a local pediatrician at Advocate Health Centers, Inc., with complaints of periodic rectal bleeding for about one year, abdominal pain, vomiting, fatigue, and a bloody watery bowel movement that day.

The 10-year-old girl had been complaining of loose stools, vomiting, streaks of blood with nearly every bowel movement for the last year, and periodic abdominal pain. On November 8, 2002, after having a bloody, watery bowel movement, her mother called the pediatrician and rushed her to their office at the Advocate Health Center in Hyde Park to discuss what she believed were serious symptoms with the doctor. The pediatrician noted all of these symptoms in his chart in addition to noting that the child had an unexpected weight loss of thirteen pounds over the last few months. The pediatrician ordered blood studies and a stool culture and sent the child home with instructions to drink clear liquids.

A few days later, the lab tests were reviewed by the pediatrician and he diagnosed the child with mononucleosis. He confirmed this diagnosis in his chart as well as in a telephone message left for the child’s mother. In the meantime, however, in the early morning hours of November 13, 2002, the child collapsed. She was rushed to Trinity Hospital and transferred to Hope Children’s Hospital where notations were made that she had a gastrointestinal bleed and had blood coming from her rectum. Efforts to resuscitate her failed and she died in the hospital soon thereafter. The Cook County Medical Examiner reported the cause of death to be a massive gastrointestinal hemorrhage due to an inflammatory bowel disease known specifically as Crohn’s Disease.

At trial, the attorney for the Estate, Paul R. Borth of Nolan Law Group, presented evidence that, at the time of her single office visit with the local pediatrician, the child presented with the classic signs and symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease and the pediatrician should have referred the child to a pediatric gastroenterologist or admitted her to the hospital for diagnosis and treatment. Stephanie L. Stalter of Nolan Law Group also represented the Estate at trial.

“The pediatrician knew he could not diagnose or treat inflammatory bowel disease, so he should have sent the child to a specialist who could. This child could have survived if she had been referred to a pediatric gastroenterologist for prompt evaluation and treatment,” Mr. Borth stated.

The defense denied liability at trial and argued that referral to a gastrointestinal specialist or admittance to the hospital was unwarranted and that the blood tests and stool culture ordered by the pediatrician were the appropriate first steps in forming a plan for this child’s care. Defense experts, including a world renowned pediatric gastroenterologist from the University of Chicago who has been practicing in the field for over thirty years, and a professor of gastrointestinal pathology from the University of Chicago, opined that they had never seen a death from a gastrointestinal hemorrhage due to Crohn’s Disease, none had been reported in medical literature, and the autopsy results and independent review of pathology slides failed to demonstrate any signs of inflammatory bowel disease or Crohn’s Disease.

The defense and its experts argued instead that the child died from an acute bacterial stomach infection which came on sometime after the child’s November 8 visit with the pediatrician but before her demise on November 13. The defense called the Chief of the Division of Infectious Disease at Children’s Memorial Hospital who testified that this infection killed her within 24-36 hours and there was no indication that inflammatory bowel disease had anything to do with the child’s untimely demise. James W. Kopriva and Trisha K. Tesmer from Cassiday Schade, LLP, represented the local pediatrician and Advocate Health Centers, Inc.

The plaintiff contended that the child’s symptoms were the classic symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, as admitted by the defense experts. “This case was won by obtaining concessions from the defendants’ experts,” said Mr. Borth. “No one could deny that this child presented to the pediatrician with these classic signs and symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease at that November 8 visit. The question for the jury was whether that single visit to the pediatrician was enough to prompt a referral to a gastrointestinal specialist and whether some intervening infection was the cause of this catastrophe.”
On February 26, 2010, the jury awarded $1,706.125.48 to the Estate of the child for loss of society, and medical and funeral expenses. The jury reportedly found the local pediatrician negligent for failure to refer the child to a pediatric gastroenterologist on November 8, 2002.

The Honorable James P. Flannery, Jr., presided over the trial. No. 06 L 7302.