$5 Million Settlement in Medical Malpractice Case

January 7, 2016 - Chicago, IL - Judge James N. O'Hara approved a $5 million settlement on December 30, 2015 for a 64-year-old woman who was negligently treated at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights. The case was set to begin trial January 4 in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Urmila Patel and her husband, Ashvin, will receive the settlement proceeds as a result of the agreement that their lawyers, Bruce Pfaff and Matthew Ports, of Pfaff, Gill & Ports, Ltd. negotiated with three defendant doctors, their employer, and the hospital.

Mrs. Patel was brought to Northwest Community Hospital's emergency room on May 5, 2011. She had confusion, progressive weakness and a questionable seizure in the ER. A CMP test showed that she had a remarkably low serum sodium level, 97, against a typical normal range of 135-140. The ER contacted the nephrologist on call, Dr. Venkata Behara of Nephrology Associates of Northern Illinois and Indiana ("NANI"). Dr. Behara diagnosed severe hyponatremia and prescribed 3% sodium solution be administered by bolus and then by infusion. Dr Behara then went off duty and care was assumed by his fellow employee, Dr. Tina Han. The nurses reported increasing sodium levels to Dr. Han by phone but she did not change the therapy ordered by Dr. Behara. The next evening, their fellow employee, Dr. Andrew Peck assumed care of Mrs. Patel and he continued sodium administration even though Mrs. Patel's sodium level was rising too fast. Finally after 48 hours of sodium therapy, it was discontinued. Mrs. Patel remained at NCH until May 11, 2011, when she was transferred to University of Illinois Hospital. The neurology staff there diagnosed "pontine myelinolysis," an iatrogenic disease.

Pontine myelinolysis is an injury to the myelin sheaths in the brain that can cause severe disability. With Mrs. Patel, it caused her to remain under care at a nursing home for more than three years. Her condition improved to the point where she was able to return home in December 2014, although she has physical limitations in the use of her hands and legs. Her mental functions have greatly improved.

Proper treatment of patients with hyponatremia has been written about extensively in medical literature in the field of nephrology. In the 1980's, there were competing schools of thought about whether rapid correction of low serum sodium was injurious. Within the past 15 years, there has been virtually unanimity among experts that sodium levels should not be permitted to rise more than 8-10 units in the first 24 hours of care, and no more than 18 units in the first 48 hours of care. The three defendant doctors here said those guidelines did not apply since Mrs. Patel's sodium was so extremely low and that she was not improving as one would have expected with lower increases in serum sodium.

Plaintiff's experts, Dr. Richard Sterns and Dr. Robert Laureno, were prepared to testify at trial that all three doctors were negligent in allowing the sodium increase to exceed safe limits and that the overdose caused Mrs. Patel's pontine myelinolysis. Defendants were expected to rely principally on their nephrology expert, Dr. Alan Arieff. Plaintiff's counsel, Mr. Pfaff, believes that no reasonable juror would have believed Dr. Arieff's opinions.

The settlement is comprised of these contributions:

  • Dr. Behara, $500,000 (ISMIE)
  • Dr. Han, $1,000,000 (ISMIE)
  • Dr. Peck, $1,000,000 (ISMIE)
  • NANI, $1,000,000 (ISMIE)
  • NCH, $1,500,000 (self-insured)

The case caption is Ashvin Patel et al v. NANI et al., Cook County Circuit Court, 12-L-9688. The Patels were represented by Bruce Pfaff and Matthew Ports of Pfaff, Gill & Ports, Ltd., Dr. Behara and NANI were represented by Brad Roth of Cassiday Schade; Dr. Han was represented by Tom Hill of Smith, Blake and Hill; Dr. Peck was represented by Mary Cunningham of Kominiarek, Bresler, Harvick & Gudmundsen; and, NCH was represented by Amy Kane at Hall, Prangle & Schooenveld.