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Robin Prairie v. University of Chicago Hospitals

July 27, 1998


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Gallagher delivered the opinion of the court:

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County

No. 92 L 9693

Honorable James F. Smith, judge Presiding.

This is a medical malpractice action brought to recover damages caused by the alleged negligence of a nurse who cared for the plaintiff while she was a patient at the University of Chicago Hospitals, the defendant in this case. This appeal arises out of an order entered by the circuit court granting summary judgment in favor of defendant. The trial court's decision was based upon plaintiff's failure to obtain expert testimony regarding the applicable standard of care and whether it was breached by the defendant. Plaintiff contends that the alleged negligence was so obvious as to be determinable by lay persons, so that expert testimony is not required to establish the standard of care. For the reasons stated below, we reverse and remand this case to the circuit court for further proceedings.

Before discussing the facts of the instant case, we set forth the standard for our review of the trial court's grant of summary judgment. "Since the entry of a summary judgment is not a matter committed to the discretion of the trial court, a reviewing court must independently examine the evidence presented in support of and in opposition to a motion for summary judgment." Groce v. South Chicago Community Hospital, 282 Ill. App. 3d 1004, 1006, 669 N.E.2d 596, 598 (1996). Thus, appellate review of an order granting summary judgment is de novo. Berlin v. Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center, 179 Ill. 2d 1, 7, 688 N.E.2d 106, 108 (1997); In re Estate of Hoover, 155 Ill. 2d 402, 615 N.E.2d 736 (1993).

Our supreme court has provided us with additional guidance with respect to summary judgment proceedings:

"Although the use of a summary judgment procedure is encouraged as an aid in expeditious Disposition of a lawsuit, it is a drastic means of disposing of litigation and should only be allowed when the right of the moving party is clear and free from doubt. *** Furthermore, it is well established that in deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court may draw inferences from the undisputed facts. However, where reasonable persons could draw divergent inferences from the undisputed facts, the issue should be decided by the trier of fact and the motion should be denied." Loyola Academy v. S&S Roof Maintenance, Inc., 146 Ill. 2d 263, 271-72, 586 N.E.2d 1211, 1215 (1992).

"Summary judgment is proper when the pleadings, depositions and affidavits on file, construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, establish that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Lajato v. AT&T, Inc., 283 Ill. App. 3d 126, 135, 669 N.E.2d 645, 651 (1996). With these principles in mind, we have examined the pleadings, depositions and affidavits in this case in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. We conclude that summary judgment should be denied based upon the following pertinent facts.

On August 2, 1990, plaintiff, Robin Prairie underwent back surgery at the University of Chicago Hospitals, defendant in this appeal. Plaintiff remained hospitalized until August 17, 1990. From August 2, 1990 through August 4, 1990, the attending physician ordered complete bed rest for the plaintiff. On August 4, 1990, the physician's order was changed to "increase activity, up as tolerated with assist." On the same day, Nurse Sandra Pullings, contrary to the physician's orders, changed plaintiff's pain pump from 2.0 to .2 or .02. As a result, the pump did not deliver a sufficient dosage of pain medication and plaintiff had a very uncomfortable night. In fact, she did not fall asleep until 6 a.m. the following morning. The pain pump was reset to the proper dosage sometime between 8 a.m. and 9:40 a.m., at which time plaintiff was finally able to fall into a deep sleep.

During her deposition, plaintiff testified as follows. On August 5, 1990, she was awakened from her sleep at approximately 11 a.m. According to plaintiff's testimony, she was jarred awake when Nurse Pullings bumped into plaintiff's bed. Nurse Pullings told plaintiff that she had to get up and also that Nurse Pullings had to make the bed. Plaintiff explained to Nurse Pullings what had happened the previous night with her pain pump. She also informed Nurse Pullings that she had not gotten any sleep, that she was in a lot of pain and that she wanted to rest. A dialogue ensued between the two during which time plaintiff continued her pleas to stay in bed. Nurse Pullings told the plaintiff she was sorry, but she had to make the bed.

At that point, Nurse Pullings proceeded to pull the plaintiff up by her arm, whereupon plaintiff again pleaded with her to leave her alone because she wanted to sleep. She also told her that it hurt to have her arm pulled the way Nurse Pullings was doing. Nurse Pullings let go of plaintiff's arm and plaintiff lay back down on the bed. Nurse Pullings next pulled plaintiff's feet so that they were hanging off the edge of the bed. At that point, according to the plaintiff, her pain was excruciating. She testified that she started to yell, to plead with Nurse Pullings not to do what she was doing and told her that it hurt. Nurse Pullings, insisting that plaintiff had to get up and that Nurse Pullings had to make the bed, forced plaintiff into a standing position, whereupon plaintiff, still in a lot of pain, informed Nurse Pullings that she was going to throw up or faint. Nurse Pullings then shoved plaintiff into a straight back chair using her hands to press down hard on plaintiff's shoulders. Plaintiff's pain was excruciating and she again pleaded with Nurse Pullings and informed her that she was going to faint. Nurse Pullings then took plaintiff's head and forced it between her knees, at least down to her lap. At that point, plaintiff felt excruciating pain in the middle of her back. Nurse Pullings then raised the plaintiff back up. Plaintiff's pain was excruciating. She wanted to try to get up, but could not. She continued to plead with Nurse Pullings to put her back in bed.

Nurse Pullings again informed plaintiff that she had to make the bed. She ripped the sheet off the bed and used it to tie plaintiff in the chair with a knot towards the back. Throughout this event, plaintiff was under the assumption that Nurse Pullings was a nurse's aid and not a nurse, based upon the fact that she was not wearing a name tag, while all of the other nurses were. Plaintiff tried to reach forward to push the nurse's call button, whereupon Nurse Pullings kicked and pushed the table out at the same time, away and out of the plaintiff's grasp. Plaintiff informed Nurse Pullings that she wanted to call the nurse. At this point, Nurse Pullings stated that she had to get some sheets and she left the room for 10 minutes. She came back and made the bed with a laboratory technician. Plaintiff believed that the laboratory technician was Nurse Pullings' friend because she had previously observed Nurse Pullings complaining to the laboratory technician about her work schedule. When the laboratory technician and Nurse Pullings finished making plaintiff's bed, Nurse Pullings put the plaintiff back in bed. Plaintiff was crying.

Nurse Pullings' note in plaintiff's medical chart concerning the incident in question, while not as detailed, is corroborative of plaintiff's testimony. Nurse Pullings noted that plaintiff stated she was uncomfortable, stated she did not want to sit up in the chair, and stated that she wanted to return to bed. The note also states that the plaintiff was screaming at her and the laboratory technician, was uncooperative and informed the service that she wanted a different nurse.

To recover damages in a medical malpractice action, a plaintiff must establish the following three elements: (1) the proper standard of care, (2) a deviation from that standard, and (3) an injury proximately caused by that deviation. Purtill v. Hess, 111 Ill. 2d 229, 489 N.E.2d 867 (1986). The general rule is that expert testimony is required to establish these elements when the assessment of the alleged negligence requires knowledge, skill, or training in a technical area outside the comprehension of lay persons. Schindel v. Albany Medical Corp., 252 Ill. App. 3d 389, 395-96, 625 N.E.2d 114 (1993). This appeal is limited to the issue of whether expert testimony is required here to establish the first two elements - the standard of care and a breach of that standard - since plaintiff has procured expert testimony regarding the third element of proximate cause. The rationale for the requirement of expert testimony is that "jurors are not skilled in the practice of medicine and would find it difficult without the help of medical evidence to determine any lack of necessary scientific skill on the part of the physician [or any other health care provider]." Walski v. ...

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