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Miceikis v. Field





APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. JOHN C. FITZGERALD, Judge, presiding.


Plaintiff, Felix Miceikis, brought this action for personal injuries against Ingalls Memorial Hospital and Dr. Robert E. Field. During a jury trial in the circuit court of Cook County, plaintiff voluntarily dismissed his action against the hospital. The cause proceeded only against Dr. Field (hereinafter defendant). The jury returned a verdict in favor of defendant, and the trial court entered judgment on the verdict. The court denied plaintiff's post-trial motions, and this appeal follows.

The complaint, in several counts, charged defendant with negligence and with failure to inform plaintiff of the risks and alternatives to a certain surgical procedure so that plaintiff was unable to give an informed consent to the operation in question. After all the evidence had been presented and during the instructions conference, plaintiff dismissed all counts except the one referring to lack of informed consent.

The tip of plaintiff's finger was severed from his hand in an employment-related incident on October 31, 1967. Plaintiff's supervisor immediately transported him to the hospital, and brought the severed finger along in a glass of liquid. At the hospital defendant reimplanted the severed finger back onto the hand. Subsequently, complications arose, and a series of further operations was performed on the hand, resulting in the eventual removal of the entire finger.

Plaintiff's initial contact with defendant occurred in the emergency room of the hospital. The parties offer conflicting accounts of this encounter. Plaintiff testified that, although he told defendant that he preferred the finger tip to be left off defendant replied that he was the doctor and reimplanted the tip. Plaintiff further testified that defendant did warn him that more of the finger might have to be amputated later, but said he gave no other information regarding the operation. On cross-examination, plaintiff stated that although defendant fully explained what the treatment would be, the latter did not comment further on it, nor did he disclose any risks.

Defendant, examined under section 60 of the Civil Practice Act, testified that plaintiff expressly requested reimplantation and that he acquiesced after informing plaintiff that the tissue probably would not survive. Defendant, who had extensive training and experience in hand surgery, believed that reimplantation did not violate good medical practice. Defendant also testified that he had disclosed the alternative of leaving the tip off. In his own behalf, defendant stated that plaintiff was informed of a possibility of success existing, but that the skin graft probably would not take. Defendant did not explain to plaintiff that a neuroma possibly could develop. A neuroma is a mass of nerve tissue in an amputation stump resulting from the abnormal regrowth of the stumps of severed nerves. It generally takes the form of a mass or tumor sprouting from a nerve. Defendant's reason for not mentioning this possible risk was his belief that the chances of neuroma developing were not increased by a reimplantation. Defendant testified to advising plaintiff that if the graft failed, that time would be lost, an amputation would be required, and the stump would have to be revised. Defendant testified that he had disclosed the alternative of leaving the tip off or of closing it in some other way.

Jane McGann, the nurse assigned to the hospital emergency room, was the sole witness to the initial meeting between the parties. She testified that plaintiff requested the reimplantation of the finger tip, and that defendant explained the procedure to him. Plaintiff was informed that the graft might not take, and if not, that further amputation would be required. On cross-examination, the nurse could not recall any other particulars concerning the incident.

A copy of the hospital's standard consent form, signed by plaintiff, was introduced into evidence by the hospital. The form in substance recited that the nature of the operation, alternatives, risks, and possible complications had been explained. The nurse testified that it was common hospital practice for doctors to disclose risks of an impending operation and to explain procedures and possible alternatives.

A sizable body of expert testimony was introduced at trial by both parties. For purposes of this opinion, only a brief survey of that testimony relevant to the issue of informed consent need be set forth. Plaintiff's first expert witness, Dr. John Noble, treated plaintiff after the initial operation by defendant and enumerated the subsequent operations necessitated by the complications with the nerve endings. He also testified that a neuroma can occur from any injury which severs the nerves, as well as from surgical procedures. Dr. Donald Miller testified for plaintiff that a physician in similar circumstances should have explained the surgical procedures, potential risks, and possible alternative methods. In his opinion, the risk of the disease process spreading more proximally was present and such risk should have been divulged to the patient. He also believed that the risk of neuroma which could necessitate further amputation should have been disclosed. On cross-examination, Dr. Miller stated that a neuroma could develop from any trauma to the nerve. He conceded that he had no way of determining whether plaintiff's neuroma resulted from the injury or from the operation. Dr. Carlos Scuderi, another expert witness for plaintiff, testified that he felt a relationship existed between the neuroma and the initial surgery, but that no way exists to determine the specific origin of the neuroma or of causalgia, a burning pain which frequently follows gunshot wounds, lacerations, and similar injuries. He was not sure if the causalgia most likely would develop after a single injury or a series of operations. Plaintiff's final expert witness, Dr. William Fitzsimmons, testified that four viable alternatives to the treatment administered existed. The alternatives should have been presented to plaintiff. Reimplantation is one of the two most common methods of treatment. The witness emphasized that he believed no existing risks should have been presented to plaintiff because gangrene existed as a risk in any of the methods of care. Neuroma and causalgia also can develop despite the best medical treatment.

Dr. William Tansey, defendant's first expert witness, upheld the doctor's actions when confronted with a hypothetical question. He believed that the physician had adequately informed the patient of risk, and that under the circumstances there was no other information to be given the patient. Dr. Elia Tobias testified that the doctor need not have divulged the possibility of neuroma in this instance, as it may have developed irrespective of the operation. In his opinion, it is not good medical practice to recount every potential complication in each case as it could be frightening and at odds with the patient's best interest. Defendant's final expert witness, Dr. Shahan Serrafin, agreed with prior testimony that the hypothetical doctor had acted properly and had omitted no vital information in his discussion with the patient.

On appeal, plaintiff contends that throughout the trial defense counsel misstated the controlling law in the presence of the jury, thereby prejudicing plaintiff; that the trial court erred in the giving and refusal of certain instructions to the jury; that the court erred in several evidentiary rulings; and that the court erred in not directing a verdict in plaintiff's favor or in not granting him a judgment n.o.v.

• 1, 2 Plaintiff's initial contention is that defense counsel prejudiced the jury through statements that only "material" risks need be disclosed by a physician to allow a patient to intelligently consent to the surgical procedure employed. This argument requires a brief discussion of the law governing informed consent in Illinois. The leading case on the subject is Green v. Hussey (1970), 127 Ill. App.2d 174, 262 N.E.2d 156. That decision embraces the view of a majority of courts in establishing a duty to disclose to a patient a collateral risk about which the doctor knew or should have known. The problem lies in determining the extent to which risks must be disclosed. In Green, the court, at page 184, created a standard under which a doctor would be protected:

"We conclude that * * * plaintiff had the burden of proving by expert medical evidence that the reasonable medical practitioner of the same school, in the same or similar circumstances, would have told the patient of such risks, or that the disclosures as made by the defendants did not meet the standard of what a reasonable medical practitioner would have disclosed under the same or similar circumstances."

The court thereupon affirmed a directed verdict for defendants at the close of plaintiff's case for failure to establish a standard of disclosure of risks since no expert medical testimony was adduced at trial. Green imposed the limitation of foreseeable risks, but did not comment on materiality. In our view, it would be too onerous a burden to place upon a physician the duty of disclosing every conceivable risk which possibly could develop. As the expert testimony revealed in the present case, excessive disclosure of remote risks would tend to do more harm than good to the patient. A doctor has a special relationship with his patient. (See Cannell v. Medical & Surgical Clinic, S.C. (1974), 21 Ill. App.3d 383, 315 N.E.2d 278.) This relationship not only vests the doctor with the responsibility of disclosure, but also requires the doctor to exercise discretion in prudently disclosing information in accordance with his patient's best interests. To disclose more than that which is material would run counter to the responsibility assumed through the doctor-patient relationship. This view has been adopted by a number of courts which have considered the problem. (See Cobbs v. Grant (1972), 8 Cal.3d 229, 502 P.2d 1, 104 Cal.Rptr. 505; Aiken v. Clary (Mo. 1965), 396 S.W.2d 668; Haven v. Randolph (D.D.C. 1972), 342 F. Supp. 538, aff'd (D.C. Cir. 1974), 494 F.2d 1069.) It is also in accord with several commentaries. (See Waltz & Scheuneman, Informed Consent to Therapy, 64 Nw. U.L. Rev. 628 (1970); Holmstrom, Informed Consent: Alternatives for Illinois, 1973 U. Ill. L.F. 739.) This standard of disclosure, as established through expert medical testimony, would define the doctor's duty as informing ...

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