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Jane Studt et al v. Sherman Health Systems

June 16, 2011

JANE STUDT ET AL.,
APPELLEES,
v.
SHERMAN HEALTH SYSTEMS, D/B/A SHERMAN HOSPITAL,
APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Justice Kilbride

CHIEF JUSTICE KILBRIDE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Justices Freeman, Thomas, Garman, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

Justice Karmeier specially concurred, with opinion.

OPINION

In this appeal, we address whether Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions, Civil, No. 105.01 (2006) (IPI Civil (2006) No. 105.01) correctly states Illinois law on the standard of care in professional negligence cases. Plaintiff, Jane Studt, filed a medical malpractice action in the circuit court of Kane County against defendant, Sherman Health Systems, doing business as Sherman Hospital. Jane alleged the Hospital's emergency room doctors failed to diagnose her appendicitis. Jane's husband brought a consortium claim.

Over the Hospital's objection, the circuit court instructed the jury with IPI Civil (2006) No. 105.01. The jury returned a verdict against the Hospital. The appellate court affirmed the verdict, holding that IPI Civil (2006) No. 105.01 correctly states the law. 387 Ill. App. 3d 401. This court allowed the Hospital's petition for leave to appeal. Ill. S. Ct. R. 315 (eff. Feb. 26, 2010). We hold that IPI Civil (2006) No. 105.01 does not accurately state Illinois law, but affirm the appellate court judgment upholding the jury verdict.

I. BACKGROUND

On October 14, 2001, Jane Studt visited the Hospital's emergency room with abdominal pain. The emergency room physicians failed to diagnose her appendicitis and sent her home with prescriptions to treat a urinary tract infection and pain. Two days later, Jane's regular physician admitted her to the Hospital and ordered a surgical consult. Jane's ruptured and gangrenous appendix was surgically removed. Jane subsequently required multiple hospitalizations and surgeries for recurrent infections and peritonitis.

On May 22, 2003, Jane and her husband filed suit against the Hospital. Plaintiffs alleged institutional negligence and vicarious liability. It is undisputed that, at trial, only experts testified on the standard of care. The trial evidence is not at issue in this appeal. We will not, therefore, recite the trial testimony.

At the conclusion of the evidence, the circuit court held a jury instruction conference. Defense counsel objected to giving IPI Civil (2006) No. 105.01. Defense counsel instead tendered an instruction based on the prior version, Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions, Civil, No. 105.01 (2005) (IPI Civil (2005) No. 105.01).

One difference between the two instructions is that IPI Civil (2005) No. 105.01 defined standard of care in terms of a "reasonably well-qualified" professional, while IPI Civil (2006) No. 105.01 uses the terms "reasonably careful." (Emphases added.) IPI Civil (2006) No. 105.01, cmt., at 279. Defense counsel submitted a memorandum of law urging that IPI Civil (2006) No. 105.01 is an incorrect statement of Illinois law on the standard for professional negligence. Specifically, the Hospital argued:

"In exchanging 'possess and apply the knowledge and use the skill and care ordinarily used by a reasonably well qualified' professional for 'reasonably careful,' the I.P.I. Committee has essentially invited jurors to apply their own reasonable person standard rather than the professional standard as shown by the evidence."

The Hospital also argued that the language of IPI Civil (2006) No. 105.01 suggesting that professional negligence can be proven through evidence of bylaws, rules, regulations, policies, procedures, evidence of community practice and other sources is misleading. According to the Hospital, this evidence is insufficient to establish professional negligence absent competent expert opinion testimony. The trial court overruled the defense objections and gave plaintiffs' instruction based on IPI Civil (2006) No. 105.01.

The Hospital did not submit special interrogatories to the jury and the jury returned a general verdict against the Hospital. The circuit court denied the Hospital's posttrial motion for a new trial and entered judgment on the jury's verdict.

The Hospital's sole argument on appeal to the appellate court was that plaintiffs' instruction based on IPI Civil (2006) No. 105.01 is an incorrect statement of Illinois law and constituted reversible error. The appellate court affirmed the trial court's judgment, holding that the "reasonably careful" language in IPI Civil (2006) No. 105.01 accurately states the law. 387 Ill. App. 3d at 404. The appellate court determined that the complete language of IPI Civil (2006) No. 105.01 leaves no question that jurors should determine the standard of care based on the evidence and not on their personal knowledge. 387 Ill. App. 3d at 404. The appellate court subsequently denied the Hospital's petition for rehearing. This court allowed the Hospital's petition for leave to appeal. Ill. S. Ct. R. 315.

II. ANALYSIS

The Hospital's sole contention in this appeal is that IPI Civil (2006) No. 105.01 does not accurately state Illinois law in three ways. First, the Hospital argues the instruction does not accurately state the type of evidence the jury may consider in determining whether a physician has complied with the standard of care. Second, the Hospital contends the instruction fails to provide the jury with the standard of care for evaluating the reasonableness of a physician's conduct. Finally, according to the Hospital, the instruction erroneously instructed the jury on the use of personal knowledge in determining the standard of care.

Generally, a trial court's decision to grant or deny an instruction is reviewed for abuse of discretion. Dillon v. Evanston Hospital, 199 Ill. 2d 483, 505 (2002). "The standard for determining an abuse of discretion is whether, taken as a whole, the instructions are sufficiently clear so as not to mislead and whether they fairly and correctly state the law." Dillon, 199 Ill. 2d at 505. When the question is whether the applicable law was conveyed accurately, however, the issue is a question of law, and our standard of review is de novo. Barth v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., 228 Ill. 2d 163, 170 (2008).

Supreme Court Rule 239(a) requires that "[w]henever Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions (IPI) contains an instruction applicable in a civil case, giving due consideration to the facts and the prevailing law, and the court determines that the jury should be instructed on the subject, the IPI instruction shall be used, unless the court determines that it does not accurately state the law." Ill. S. Ct. R. 239(a) (eff. Jan. 1, 1999). A non-IPI instruction may ...


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