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Coleman v. Wiencek

March 22, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge


Dorothy Coleman, the administrator of the estate of her late brother Johnnie Russell, has sued the City of Aurora, Aurora police officer Jeffrey Wiencek, and Provena Hospitals. Russell was admitted to the emergency department of Provena Mercy Medical Center in Aurora on November 17, 2006. Coleman alleges that he suffered from Dilantin toxicity, altered mental stability, paranoid personality, and other conditions. Compl. ¶ 17. Provena personnel evaluated him and recommended him for placement in the psychiatric ward. Id. ¶ 18. At some point, a nurse discovered that Russell was in possession of a handgun, and the Aurora police were called. Id. ¶¶ 20-21. When the police arrived, Russell had blockaded himself inside a hospital room.

Id. ¶ 21. A standoff ensued. Coleman alleges that without legal justification, Wiencek fired five or six shots at Russell, killing him.

Coleman has sued Wiencek and Aurora for use of excessive force and related claims. Coleman has also asserted a wrongful death claim against Provena. She alleges that Provena owed a duty "to exercise reasonable care to protect... Russell from causing harm to himself and others." Id. ¶ 59. Coleman alleges that Provena was negligent "in that, with knowledge of [Russell's] mentally defective condition and prior psychiatric history, [it] failed to conduct a reasonable search to determine whether [he] was in possession of any articles and items or contraband which may cause harm to himself and others," and that as a result, Russell suffered a wrongful death. Id. ¶¶ 60-61.

1. Provena's summary judgment motion

Provena has moved for summary judgment. It makes a single argument in support of the motion. Specifically, Provena argues that under Illinois law, "expert testimony is required to prove deviations from the standard of care in a medical malpractice action" and that Coleman "failed to disclose any expert testimony relating to the standard of care in support of [her] complaint." Provena Mot. for Summ. Judg. at 1-2; Provena Mem. at 4-5. Provena makes a related argument that Coleman offered no expert testimony relating to causation. Provena Mem. at 5. Coleman argues that her claim is one of simple negligence, not medical malpractice, and that expert testimony is thus not required.

The Illinois Supreme Court has stated that

[i]n a negligence medical malpractice case, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove the following elements of a cause of action: the proper standard of care against which the defendant physician's conduct is measured; an unskilled or negligent failure to comply with the applicable standard; and a resulting injury proximately caused by the physician's want of skill or care. Unless the physician's negligence is so grossly apparent or the treatment so common as to be within the everyday knowledge of a layperson, expert medical testimony is required to establish the standard of care and the defendant physician's deviation from that standard.

Purtill v. Hess, 111 Ill. 2d 229, 241-42, 489 N.E.2d 867, 872 (1986) (citations omitted).

Coleman's claim is not a claim of "medical malpractice" as such. The requirement of expert testimony to establish the standard of care and deviation from the standard is not, however, limited to medical malpractice cases. The Illinois Supreme Court explained this in Jones v. Chicago HMO Ltd. of Ill., 191 Ill. 2d 278, 730 N.E.2d 1119 (2000). Though Jones itself was a medical malpractice action, the court explained the difference between ordinary negligence actions and those involving professional negligence.

The court in Jones described the requirements for an ordinary negligence claim as follows:

The elements of a negligence cause of action are a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, a breach of that duty, and an injury proximately caused by the breach. The standard of care, also known as the standard of conduct, falls within the duty element....

In an ordinary negligence case, the standard of care required of a defendant is to act as would an "ordinarily careful person" or a "reasonably prudent person." No expert ...

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