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12/30/97 PATRICIA CONNERS AND THOMAS CONNERS v.

December 30, 1997

PATRICIA CONNERS AND THOMAS CONNERS, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
STUART POTICHA, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF COOK COUNTY. No. 91-L-8186. THE HONORABLE JAMES J. HEYDA, JUDGE PRESIDING.

The Honorable Justice Cousins delivered the opinion of the court. McNULTY, P.j. and Tully, J., concur.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cousins

The Honorable Justice COUSINS delivered the opinion of the court:

Plaintiff, Patricia Conners, filed a complaint against defendant, Dr. Stuart Poticha, for the inadequate treatment of plaintiff's recurring infection subsequent to a hernia operation performed by defendant. The jury rendered a verdict in defendant's favor, and plaintiff filed a motion for a new trial asserting error in the admission of certain testimony offered by defendant and one of his expert witnesses. The trial court denied plaintiff's motion for a new trial. On appeal, plaintiff contends that the trial court committed reversible error: (1) by allowing defendant to offer a new opinion regarding the cause of plaintiff's infections that contradicted defendant's deposition testimony and that was based on speculation; and (2) by permitting defendant's expert witness to render a new opinion as to the cause of plaintiff's infections when such expert failed to disclose that opinion during discovery and where such opinion was based on mere conjecture.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff's complaint raised several issues relating to allegedly negligent medical care provided by defendant between February 1983 and June 1985. The circuit court of Cook County directed a verdict in defendant's favor on the bulk of those issues and submitted the case to a jury to resolve the single question of whether plaintiff's recurring infection was caused by defendant's failure to discover an allegedly infected suture. The facts relevant to plaintiff's appeal are as follows.

Plaintiff has undergone several abdominal surgeries over the past 45 years, including a ventral hernia operation in 1981. All of plaintiff's abdominal operations involved incisions at the same site. Consequently, the area of these incisions weakened and stretched over time, and in 1983, plaintiff sustained another ventral hernia, consisting of numerous holes in the muscular layers of the abdominal wall. In February 1983, defendant, a general surgeon, repaired the hernia by removing the prior incisions and sewing the entire area together in a single closure. Due to plaintiff's excessive weight, defendant decided that strong closure material was needed to withstand the stress on plaintiff's abdominal wall. Defendant, therefore, elected to use a combination of absorbable sutures and permanent nylon sutures in order that the connective tissues and muscles would be held together in the event that the area was not completely healed when the absorbable sutures dissolved.

Plaintiff's post-operative condition was normal for several weeks. Soon thereafter, however, plaintiff was twice admitted to surgery under defendant's care to have fluid removed from the site of her operation. On both occasions, the fluids tested negative for any type of bacteria or infection. Beginning in late March 1983, plaintiff was readmitted for treatment of an infection which appeared at the edge of her surgical wound next to healthy skin. From this time until May 1985, defendant removed infected tissue and prescribed antibiotics. Each attempt to exterminate any infection by tissue removal and antibiotics proved successful until plaintiff visited defendant again with recurring infection. Defendant's tests showed that each recurrence of plaintiff's infection was caused by entirely new bacteria which were combatted with different antibiotics and, in cases of particularly destructive bacteria, substantial tissue removal.

After 10 unsuccessful procedures to bring about final healing, defendant referred plaintiff to the Mayo Clinic. In June 1985, surgeons at the Mayo Clinic removed plaintiff's nylon suture and scar tissue, restitched the operation site, and made cosmetic corrections to the area. Plaintiff made a successful and complete recovery following this operation. A surgeon at the Mayo Clinic suggested that an infected suture could have been the cause of plaintiff's recurring infection. However, cultures of the suture material removed from plaintiff by the Mayo Clinic were negative for the presence of any bacteria.

Nevertheless, plaintiff and her husband, Thomas, filed suit against Dr. Poticha, alleging, in pertinent part, that plaintiff's recurring infection was caused by an infected suture placed by defendant during the February 1983 hernia operation, and that defendant was negligent in failing to discover that fact and remove the suture. At trial, defendant and his expert witness, Dr. Gordon Trenholme, testified at length on the issue of causation, stating that the sutures could not have been the cause of plaintiff's infections and that an external source must have been responsible. Plaintiff's earlier motions in limine to bar any testimony as to an external cause of infection were denied as were plaintiff's vigorous objections during the defense's aforementioned testimony. Plaintiff specifically objected on the grounds that, at their depositions, defendant and his expert were unable to offer any opinions as to the actual cause of plaintiff's infections and were, pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 220(d) (134 Ill. 2d R. 220(d)), precluded from rendering contradictory opinions on that subject while testifying at trial.

We affirm.

ANALYSIS

I

Plaintiff's first contention is that defendant's trial testimony should have been excluded, since it was fraught with new opinion and speculation that contradicted his deposition testimony. Plaintiff relies on ...


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