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05/15/89 Judy B. Gara, v. Emanuel Semerad Et Al.

May 15, 1989





539 N.E.2d 298, 183 Ill. App. 3d 622, 131 Ill. Dec. 945 1989.IL.734

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Odas Nicholson, Judge, presiding.


JUSTICE QUINLAN* delivered the opinion of the court. BUCKLEY and O'CONNOR, JJ., concur.


On January 2, 1982, the plaintiff, Judy Gara, was injured in an accident at Alexian Brothers Medical Center, where she was employed as a nurse. On October 5, 1984, plaintiff filed a professional negligence lawsuit against various physicians and hospitals for their alleged failure to diagnose and properly treat the injury she sustained as a result of the accident on January 2, 1982. Included as defendants in the lawsuit were Drs. Semerad, Gleason, Shenker and Frank. Drs. Semerad, Shenker and Frank moved for summary judgment, and Dr. Gleason moved to dismiss plaintiff's complaint. All of the doctors' motions were based on the argument that the plaintiff's claim was barred by the applicable statute of limitations, which they asserted required that the plaintiff bring her suit within two years of the date of her injury or the discovery of her cause of action. The plaintiff, they claimed, had discovered her cause of action more than two years before the time she had filed her complaint. The trial Judge agreed and ruled that the plaintiff's claim was time barred, granted the motions of Drs. Semerad, Gleason, Shenker, and Frank, and subsequently denied plaintiff's motion for reconsideration. The plaintiff has now appealed to this court. We reverse and remand.

On January 2, 1982, the plaintiff injured her arm, neck and back in an accident while she was working at Alexian Brothers Medical Center. She immediately went to the emergency room at Alexian Brothers for treatment, and the emergency room physician treated her and told her to make an appointment in a few days with an orthopedist, Dr. Semerad. The plaintiff then, as the emergency room physician had recommended, took off some time from work. A few days later, she made an appointment and saw Dr. Semerad, and in February 1982, Dr. Semerad performed certain tests on plaintiff, the results of which were negative. He then prescribed a course of treatments, which only made plaintiff's condition worse. In fact, during this time plaintiff's condition continued to deteriorate, and the muscle spasms she had been experiencing became more painful. Although plaintiff returned to work, she was unable to perform any tasks that required excessive lifting or stretching, and, in addition, she was unable to drive due to the pain. Eventually, plaintiff became suspicious about the nature of her condition since she was not improving.

In May or June of 1982, plaintiff's friend, Mrs. Fox, who was the director of employee health at Alexian Brothers, told plaintiff that she did not agree with Dr. Semerad's treatment of plaintiff and recommended that the plaintiff see Dr. Gleason, another orthopedist. Plaintiff set up an appointment with Dr. Gleason and first saw him on June 11, 1982. After examining the plaintiff and viewing her X rays, Dr. Gleason criticized Dr. Semerad's failure to perform certain tests on the plaintiff; however, in the course of plaintiff's several visits to Dr. Gleason, he never performed these tests on the plaintiff either. The plaintiff thought that Dr. Gleason's conduct was unusual, but when she asked Dr. Gleason about it, he laughed at her inquiry. Furthermore, the treatment recommended by Dr. Gleason did not improve her condition, but only caused her more pain, and during this period of his treatment, her condition continued to deteriorate.

On July 3, 1982, the plaintiff fell and injured herself again. Plaintiff took time off from work after this accident and in mid-July 1982, she again went to see Dr. Gleason for treatment. Although she believed that her condition had not improved, Dr. Gleason told her that she should return to work and attempt to forget about the pain. Dr. Gleason also recommended that plaintiff see a neurologist, Dr. Shenker.

Subsequently, sometime in July 1982, plaintiff went to see Dr. Shenker. Dr. Shenker performed one test on plaintiff, the results of which, he told plaintiff, were normal. After performing that test, he did not perform any further tests, nor did he suggest any further treatments or visits, but instead told plaintiff that she was a malingerer and a faker, and suggested that she only wanted a false report from him so that she could obtain an inflated worker's compensation settlement. Meanwhile, plaintiff's condition still continued to deteriorate. The plaintiff then began to see Dr. Semerad once again. Dr. Semerad told her, at that time, that she had either a neurological problem or a collagen disease, both of which were serious problems, and referred her to another neurologist.

On Dr. Semerad's recommendation, plaintiff then went to see Dr. Frank, another neurologist, in August of 1982, and he told her that she had a neurological deficit. Dr. Frank criticized both Dr. Gleason's and Dr. Shenker's treatment of plaintiff. After her last visit with Dr. Frank, Dr. Frank called plaintiff's husband and told him that he was concerned about plaintiff's mental health and suggested that her husband should take her on a vacation.

Plaintiff then, on August 25, 1982, returned to Dr. Semerad, who told her that he was signing off of her case because he could not find any orthopedic problem. Dr. Semerad, however, offered to write a letter of recommendation to Mayo Clinic on her behalf. Later, her employer's insurance company informed her that a visit to Mayo Clinic would not be covered under her insurance plan. On September 7, 1982, the plaintiff went to see Dr. Melen, a neurologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, who examined her and told her that he did not agree with the prior treatments she had received from Dr. Semerad.

Soon after her visit with Dr. Melen, plaintiff went to see Dr. Lichtenstein, a doctor that her insurance company suggested she see, and he was critical of all of the doctors that had previously treated the plaintiff, including Drs. Semerad, Gleason, Shenker and Frank, and the entire staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital as well. Dr. Lichtenstein's criticisms of the defendant doctors' treatment and diagnoses of the plaintiff were in the nature of broad, generalized statements that their treatments were improper and inappropriate, or that they did not do proper diagnostic work-ups. The remainder of Dr. Lichtenstein's criticisms, plaintiff said, were directed towards the personal reputations of the doctors, and included observations that certain of the defendant doctors were "big gun" doctors for her employer's insurance company and were known to falsify reports. Plaintiff stated that she believed these observations by Dr. Lichtenstein to be "off base."

After seeing Dr. Lichtenstein, the plaintiff continued to experience pain, and, accordingly, she continued to see various other doctors. In September 1983, she went to visit her family doctor, Dr. Rittman, who she claims accurately diagnosed her initial injury from her fall in January of 1982 as a cervical spine injury. ...

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