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Green v. Hussey

JUNE 29, 1970.




Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. P.A. SORRENTINO, Judge, presiding. Affirmed.


This is a medical malpractice action. Plaintiff alleged that defendants, subsequent to breast cancer surgery and without first obtaining plaintiff's "informed consent," undertook a postoperation series of cobalt and X-ray treatments on her, which damaged her severely. The issue presented for review is whether the trial court properly directed a verdict in favor of defendants at the close of plaintiff's case.

The record shows that in April 1962, Dr. C. David Brown, after a diagnosis that a tumor was malignant, surgically removed a breast of plaintiff. No evidence was found that the cancer had spread beyond the breast area, and plaintiff was turned over to the hospital's radiology department for radiation therapy. After thirty treatments, the therapy was ended. Plaintiff claims that these treatments resulted in damage to plaintiff's heart and right lung and caused her involuntary retirement due to physical disability from the U.S. Post Office.

Plaintiff asserts that "defendants' liability is based not upon a lack of care but upon an utter failure to obtain the patient's consent to the treatment. The facts of defendants' liability are found not in what happened during the treatment, but in what happened before the treatment was begun." Plaintiff contends that she was entitled to know the foreseeable results before the treatment was undertaken, and "defendant's failure to inform Miss Green of the risks involved in X-ray and cobalt therapy amounts to a failure to obtain the necessary consent. A specific consent was obtained for the biopsy, which proved the tumor to be malignant. Another specific consent was obtained for the simple mastectomy. But no consent, neither written nor oral nor implied, was obtained for the radiation therapy."

Plaintiff testified and denied any consent to the radiation therapy. She said that her surgeon, Dr. Brown, told her he knew nothing about radiology, and she would be turned over to the X-ray department as the next step in her treatment. On plaintiff's first visit to the radiation department of Lutheran General Hospital, she met Dr. Sam Mulopulos, an employee of defendant Hussey. Dr. Mulopulos initiated the radiation therapy. Although he conversed with plaintiff on her initial visit, their discussion amounted to little more than a guided tour of the cobalt treatment room. After examining plaintiff, Dr. Mulopulos showed her the cobalt room and told her she would be left alone in the room during the treatment and described some of the noises she could expect to hear from the equipment. Plaintiff asserts that "she was asked nothing. She was told that she was going to be receiving cobalt radiation treatments."

Plaintiff further testified that a few days later Dr. Koptik, another employee of defendant Hussey, took over treatment of plaintiff at Lutheran Deaconess Hospital, an institution operated by the same defendants, but located nearer to plaintiff's home. Lois Hanson, a technician, testified that Dr. Koptik told plaintiff that the therapy would be continued, and that she had nothing to worry about. The only question asked of plaintiff by Dr. Koptik was what she had already been told.

Dr. Mulopulos was called by plaintiff under section 60 of the Civil Practice Act, and his testimony included the following:

Q. "Did you do anything further with the patient on April 26, 1962?"

A. "We discussed what would be done as far as her treatment."

Q. "All right, what did you say to her and what did she say to you, doctor?"

A. "We told her that she was referred for radiation therapy by Doctor Brown, and as was our custom, this meant that we would treat several areas of her body, and this would require treatment for at least four weeks, and that during that time, she may have some changes. It wasn't required that she have all the changes, but she may have some symptoms. It may not be required that she have all the symptons, some patients do have just nausea, some patients do have some loss in appetite, some patients do have difficulty in swallowing with the treatment, some patients may have skin change, they may not have skin change, may be temporary. That when we do treat, we treat as a form of insurance to make sure that if there were any cancer in the area that we are treating, that we attempt to take care of the cancer that might be there, and that it should be understood that this area we are treating will encompass some normal tissue, that in the treatment of the area, in order to produce changes to the cancer, there must be some changes to the normal tissue. When she goes into the room, she will feel nothing as far as the treatment is concerned, yet any changes that take place will be changes that will occur later on in the treatment, any discomfort in swallowing usually occurs after several weeks, and that Doctor Brown has asked us to treat her and that we thought this would be the best treatment for her."

Q. "Were you the only doctor who talked with Mrs. Green as she commenced her radiation therapy treatment there at Lutheran General Hospital?"

A. "At the commencement of her treatment?"

Q. "Yes?"

A. "Yes, I was the only doctor. Doctor Brown referred her and then I ...

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