APPEAL from the Circuit Court of La Salle County; the Hon.
LEONARD HOFFMAN, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE SCOTT DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
The plaintiff in this case, Jean Ann Longman, sued the defendant, Dr. Clement Jasiek, a dentist specializing in oral surgery. The case came to trial in the Circuit Court of La Salle County, resulting in a verdict and judgment for the plaintiff in the amount of $35,000. A post-trial motion and a motion to reduce judgment were denied by the presiding judge below, and this appeal followed.
In late 1975, Jean Ann Longman was 23 years old, in good health, and recently graduated from Illinois State University in Normal with a degree in political science. Upon the advice of her family dentist, Dr. Harold Hutchinson, Jean made an appointment to have four wisdom teeth removed by the defendant in this cause, Dr. Jasiek. On December 17, 1975, Jean went from her home in Henry, Illinois, to the office of Dr. Jasiek in La Salle, where all four of her wisdom teeth were removed, two of which required a surgical procedure followed by suturing of the gum and skin where the removal had taken place.
Jean returned on December 23 for the purpose of having the sutures removed and for the defendant to be able to see the areas of the operation. She had experienced no unexpected discomfort during the interim, and the sutures were removed uneventfully.
On the next day, December 24, in the evening, Jean developed pain and stiffness and swelling in her right jaw which continued through that evening and on into the next day, Christmas. On the morning of the 26th, with the condition still persisting, Jean called Dr. Jasiek's office to report her condition and to seek his care and assistance. At this point her jaw was very stiff and she could barely move it at all. She spoke to the doctor's nurse and explained the problem she was having. The doctor's nurse asked if she was having pain in the area of the extraction itself. Jean replied "no" and the nurse, with Dr. Jasiek's approval, advised Jean that since she wasn't having any pain in the area of the extraction then her problems were not related to the oral surgery. She was told to see a medical doctor.
Later that day Jean went to see her family doctor in Henry. The general practitioner, Dr. Anton F. Tochalauski, examined Jean and suggested that she see her oral surgeon, who, the family doctor felt, would be better qualified to treat the problem. Jean explained that the oral surgeon's office had refused her treatment and referred her instead to her family doctor. Under those circumstances, Dr. Tochalauski gave Jean an injection of a steroid-type medicine and prescribed a modest dosage of penicillin in oral form. As a result of this medication Jean experienced some immediate relief of her pain and swelling, but by the 29th of December the pain was back and even more intense. Moreover, the swelling persisted and she could barely move her mouth.
Jean again called the oral surgeon's office and related her symptoms, to-wit, pain and swelling in her jaw. Again she was told to see her family doctor. Jean followed the telephoned instructions from the oral surgeon's office and visited Dr. Tochalauski. The family practitioner again recommended that Jean see the oral surgeon who had extracted her teeth, but after hearing Jean relate his telephonic refusal to assist, the December 26 treatments were repeated.
The steroid penicillin combination brought immediate but shortlived relief. On January 5, 1976, Jean was returning to her family doctor who, for the first time in his examination, noted evidence of infection. On this, the third visit, Dr. Tochalauski had the plaintiff admitted to St. Francis Hospital in Peoria. She was exhibiting symptoms of swelling of the right cheek, headaches, temperature, restricted jaw movement, and drainage from the right side of the mouth. Jean was treated with a high dosage of intravenous penicillin for eight days followed by reduced dosages of oral penicillin. Sixteen days later, on January 21, Jean was discharged from the hospital with a continuing prescription for oral penicillin.
Less than two weeks later, on February 2, 1976, Jean was rehospitalized with a temperature, facial swelling on the right side, and a continuing abscess at the site of her tooth extraction. During this hospital stay, which extended for a period of four weeks, an infection of the jaw bone known as osteomyelitis was diagnosed. Jean was placed on an even higher dosage of intravenous penicillin. By March 11, Jean's pain and swelling had subsided and the doctors felt that the infection and osteomyelitis were under control. She was discharged from the hospital with a continuing prescription for oral penicillin. Since leaving the hospital, Jean has continued to improve.
Based on the preceding sequence of events, Jean brought suit against Dr. Jasiek alleging that as a result of abandonment of and refusal to treat the plaintiff, an abscess developed in the right part of her jaw which eventually reached the bone and developed into osteomyelitis. The verdict reached in the proceeding below attests to the fact that the jury agreed with the allegations in the complaint. Dr. Jasiek prosecuted this appeal.
The defendant doctor urges us to find that the verdict reached below was against the manifest weight of the evidence and that the alleged act of malpractice, specifically, abandonment of the patient, was not established as a matter of law under prevailing precedent. The facts previously set forth in this opinion were all excerpted from the record of the trial below and represented evidence properly admitted for the jury's consideration. In addition, the defendant himself made certain damaging admissions under questioning by plaintiff's counsel pursuant to section 60 of the Civil Practice Act (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 110, par. 60). Among other responses to section 60 inquiries, the defendant admitted that it was likely that plaintiff's condition could have been taken care of if treated by an oral surgeon, that swelling near the area of extraction was a symptom of abscess developing, and that in some cases the only effective treatment for an abscess is to open it up. After these statements, the following exchange took place between plaintiff's counsel and the defendant:
"Counsel: Certainly any patient that develops swelling near the site of extractions in the jaw area seven days or more after the extractions you would want to see them on a follow-up basis, wouldn't you?
Defendant: Unless it's another problem.
Counsel: You couldn't tell if it was another problem unless you ...