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Crowell v. Golz

February 06, 2001

MARIANN CROWELL, AS MOTHER AND NEXT FRIEND OF HEATHER CROWELL, A MINOR, AND MARIANN CROWELL, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
ROBERT J. GOLZ, M.D., SOUTHERN ILLINOIS ORTHOPEDIC CLINIC, S.C., AND CAL JOHNSON ANSWERING SERVICE, INC., DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Clair County. No. 99-L-973 Honorable Michael J. O'Malley, Judge, presiding.

Justices: Honorable Clyde L. Kuehn, J. Honorable Gordon E. Maag, J., and Honorable Thomas M. Welch, J., Concur

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Kuehn

The defendants, Robert J. Golz, M.D. (Golz), Southern Illinois Orthopedic Clinic, S.C. (the Orthopedic Clinic), and Cal Johnson Answering Service, Inc. (the Answering Service), appeal from the trial court's denial of their request to transfer this case from St. Clair County circuit court to Jackson County circuit court on the basis of forum non conveniens.

The appellant who took the lead on this appeal is the Answering Service. The Answering Service is a St. Clair County business with St. Clair County employees. The Answering Service has no ties to Jackson County-a fact that the Answering Service glosses over in its motion before the trial court and its briefs on appeal. Its arguments for the appropriateness of a transfer have no relation to its business or its employees. The Answering Service does not explain how St. Clair County could in any way be an inconvenient forum. We hope that the Answering Service's appeal does not portend the future of forum non conveniens motions.

BACKGROUND

On August 30, 1996, Heather Crowell fell on an elementary school playground and fractured her left wrist. The fracture necessarily required the attention of Golz and the Orthopedic Clinic. Golz set the fracture. Heather's parents were instructed to immediately call if certain symptoms appeared over the upcoming weekend. Symptoms developed, and on Saturday, August 31, 1996, they called the telephone number provided by Golz's office and reported the symptoms. Because the Orthopedic Clinic was not open on Saturday, the call was most likely transferred to its Answering Service. Someone called the Crowells back and advised that they simply needed to loosen Heather's bandage. What is not known is the identity of this person. The person who called the Crowells back was not Golz or anyone in his group. Golz was never contacted by his Answering Service about the Crowells' telephone call.

Following the weekend, Heather's condition had not improved, and the Crowells sought treatment. Heather was diagnosed with a compartment syndrome. In the following months, Heather underwent surgeries and much physical therapy in Missouri.

Ultimately, Heather and her mother filed suit against Golz and the Orthopedic Clinic for medical malpractice, alleging negligent postoperative care. This suit was filed in Jackson County, where Golz and the Orthopedic Clinic practice and the alleged negligent acts occurred.

Discovery ensued. Golz was deposed. He acknowledged that Heather probably developed the compartment syndrome on that Saturday and that had he received a telephone call from his Answering Service, he would have properly diagnosed and treated the condition. Golz testified that the bandage-loosening advice the Crowells received was inappropriate given Heather's symptoms and her history. Golz's testimony brought into light the Answering Service's involvement in Heather's postoperative care. The Answering Service is a St. Clair County business with its employees residing in St. Clair County.

After Golz's deposition, Heather and her mother filed a new suit in St. Clair County circuit court against Golz, his Orthopedic Clinic, and his Answering Service. The claims against Golz and the Orthopedic Clinic were still based in medical malpractice. The claim against the Answering Service was based on alleged negligence in responding to the Crowells' telephone call.

Thereafter, Heather and her mother sought leave of court to dismiss the suit in Jackson County circuit court. Golz and the Orthopedic Clinic protested the dismissal request. The Jackson County suit remains pending.

Golz, the Orthopedic Clinic, and the Answering Service filed motions to transfer this case from St. Clair County to Jackson County, arguing that Jackson County was much more convenient to the parties and the witnesses and that Jackson County circuit court civil dockets were far less congested than the St. Clair County circuit court civil dockets. Golz and the Orthopedic Clinic also sought to have the St. Clair County suit dismissed pursuant to section 2-619(a)(3) of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-619(a)(3) (West 1998)) because of the pendency of the Jackson County suit, which they argued was identical in terms of substantive content.

After much written and oral argument, the St. Clair County trial court denied the defendants' motion to transfer and/or to dismiss the case. This March 20, 2000, order was ...


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