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Schuler v. Mid-Central Cardiology

May 15, 2000

CAROLYN SCHULER, AS ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF RICHARD SCHULER, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
V.
MID-CENTRAL CARDIOLOGY, A PROFESSIONAL CORPORATION, AND PATRICK B. MURPHY, M.D., DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES, AND ROBERT MCENTYRE, M.D., DEFENDANT.



Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County No. 97L28 v. ) Honorable Luther H. Dearborn, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Cook

Carolyn Schuler (plaintiff) appeals a jury verdict in favor of Patrick Murphy, M.D. (Dr. Murphy), and his professional corporation, Mid-Central Cardiology (collectively referred to as defendants). Plaintiff brought this medical malpractice action after the death of her husband, Richard Schuler (Schuler). Schuler died as a result of heart vessel blockage, which occurred during "stress test" procedures being performed by Dr. Murphy. Plaintiff asserts that the circuit court committed a variety of evidentiary errors that prejudiced her case and justify reversal. We affirm the judgment in favor of defendants.

I. BACKGROUND

On the evening of February 3, 1995, Schuler went to BroMenn Regional Medical Center complaining that he had been experiencing chest pains for two days. Robert McEntyre, M.D. (Dr. McEntyre), an emergency room (ER) physician, attended to Schuler and ordered a battery of tests. Schuler's electrocardiogram (EKG) came back abnormal, but his lab results were within normal limits. Dr. McEntyre decided to obtain a telephone consultation with a cardiologist, Dr. Murphy. The doctors agreed that Schuler's condition was stable and that a follow-up EKG should be performed. Dr. Murphy instructed Dr. McEntyre to call him again after the second EKG.

The results of Schuler's second EKG showed improvement but were still abnormal. Dr. McEntyre's initial inclination was to admit Schuler for a 23-hour observation, but, after discussing the matter with Dr. Murphy, the doctors decided that Schuler should not be hospitalized. Dr. McEntyre noted in the hospital records that Schuler was experiencing "noncardiac chest pain," and he was released with instructions to follow up with Dr. Murphy.

Dr. Murphy subsequently evaluated Schuler on February 10, 15, and 16. Dr. Murphy scheduled a stress test for February 16, which is a method of evaluating a patient's physical state before, during, and after strenuous activity. Schuler died during the stress test procedures on February 16, 1995.

Plaintiff filed suit against Mid-Central Cardiology, Dr. Murphy, BroMenn Healthcare, and Dr. McEntyre. The suit against BroMenn Healthcare was later dismissed on plaintiff's motion. Dr. McEntyre settled with plaintiff prior to trial. The case proceeded to trial against Mid-Central Cardiology and Dr. Murphy on July 6, 1999. In essence, plaintiff claims that Dr. Murphy gave Schuler inadequate medical treatment and should not have required or permitted Schuler to submit to the stress test. The jury returned a verdict in favor of defendants. This appeal followed.

II. ANALYSIS

Plaintiff first argues that the circuit court committed reversible error when it denied plaintiff's motion to strike the supplemental opinions of one of defendants' experts. Plaintiff also claims that the circuit court erred when it refused to permit plaintiff's expert to testify that Dr. Murphy breached the standard of care if he instructed Dr. McEntyre to change his diagnosis to indicate that Schuler was discharged with "noncardiac" as opposed to "cardiac" pain. Finally, plaintiff asserts that the circuit court should not have allowed defense witnesses to utilize a demonstrative exhibit to explain the evaluation process doctors and cardiologists use with patients complaining of chest pain.

A. The Supplemental Opinions and Related Testimony of Defendants' Experts Were Properly Admitted

Defendants initially disclosed Dr. Gerald Wolff and Dr. Joseph Messer as opinion witnesses who would testify at trial on their behalf. Defendants made generic opinion disclosures, indicating that, based upon the doctors' review of the records and their education and experience, they would testify that Dr. Murphy complied with the standard of care applicable to him in his care and treatment of Schuler. Plaintiff had not issued Supreme Court Rule 213(g) interrogatories requesting this information; rather, the disclosure was made pursuant to the circuit court's case-management order. 177 Ill. 2d R. 213(g); 166 Ill. 2d R. 218. The case-management order required the parties to disclose the "gist" of their opinion witnesses' testimony. The case-management order also provided for disclosure of opinion witnesses and completion of discovery pursuant to Rule 218(c). 166 Ill. 2d R. 218(c) (completion of discovery not later than 60 days before trial).

At the time of defendants' initial disclosure, plaintiff's opinion witnesses had already been deposed. Subsequently, Dr. Wolff and co-defendant Dr. McEntyre's two opinion witnesses were deposed. Dr. Messer's discovery deposition was taken on March 19, 1999, as the final opinion witness deposition in the case. The deposition was brief, spanning only 22 pages.

Defendants subsequently served a "supplemental disclosure of opinions," setting forth detailed opinions that Dr. Messer would provide at trial. These supplemental opinions were in addition to those elicited at Dr. Messer's deposition. The certificate of service indicates that the supplemental disclosure was sent via facsimile and regular mail to plaintiff and co-defendant on Thursday, May 6, 1999, 61 days before trial. However, the supplemental disclosure was not file- stamped by the circuit court until Monday, May 10, 1999, which was 57 days before trial.

In response, plaintiff filed a motion to strike the supplemental disclosure and to bar further opinions. Plaintiff argued that (1) Dr. Messer's deposition had been taken, (2) the time for disclosure of opinions was past, (3) the additional opinions were not provided in either the initial disclosure or at the time of the discovery deposition, and (4) the late disclosure would not allow time for an additional deposition, to forward those disclosures to plaintiff's opinion witnesses, and to disclose rebuttal opinions. Plaintiff asked the circuit court to bar Dr. Messer from giving any opinions other than those disclosed in his discovery deposition.

Defendants replied to plaintiff's motion to strike, asserting that their disclosure was appropriate pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 213. 177 Ill. 2d R. 213. Defendants contend that the supplemental disclosure was necessary to address Dr. Messer's opinions that plaintiff did not specifically cover during the deposition. Further, they argue that the rules of discovery do not require them to conduct their own direct examination of Messer at the deposition, and the written supplemental disclosure was the appropriate procedure. Defendants also allege that none of the supplemental opinions disclosed would cause undue surprise or prejudice the plaintiff.

At a pretrial hearing on July 2, 1999, the circuit court heard arguments relating to various motions in limine, including plaintiff's motion to bar Messer's supplemental opinions. The circuit court denied plaintiff's motion. The circuit court held that although the supplemental opinions were more specific than those previously provided, no surprise or prejudice to plaintiff resulted that would warrant striking Dr. Messer's additional disclosures. The circuit court granted plaintiff leave to redepose Dr. Messer in light of the supplemental disclosure. Plaintiff declined, claiming there was insufficient time before trial to take the additional deposition and offer additional rebuttal testimony from plaintiff's own experts. On appeal, plaintiff argues that the circuit court's decision was an abuse of ...


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