Illinois Appellate Court Discusses Law-Of-The-Case Doctrine In Reviving Medical Malpractice Case

In its opinion filed on November 15, 2021 in an Illinois medical malpractice case on appeal for the second time, the Appellate Court of Illinois Second District (“Illinois Appellate Court”) held: “On remand, defendants successfully moved for reconsideration of the trial court’s grant of leave to plaintiff to file her amended complaint. Defendants also successfully moved for summary judgment on, essentially, the original complaint. On appeal, plaintiff argues that the trial court’s grant of defendants’ motions for reconsideration and summary judgment in their favor is precluded by the law-of-the-case doctrine. We agree and reverse and remand for trial on the amended complaint.”

Procedural Background

Prior to 2007, Laura Martinez (Martinez} was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disease that attacks white matter in the brain and spinal cord. MS is a progressive and debilitating disease for which there is no cure. Martinez began treatment with Dr. Ta, an employee of Midwest Neurology. From March 2008 until October 2012, Dr. Ta treated Martinez with Tysabri, a medication used to treat MS. Tysabri cannot cure MS, but it can slow the progression of the disease. Dr. Ta knew that treating patients with Tysabri for longer than two years placed them at an increased risk for developing progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), a rare brain infection that causes severe disability. Dr. Ta also knew that Martinez had multiple risk factors that placed her at a higher risk for developing PML with Tysabri.

In July 2015, Martinez filed a two-count medical negligence complaint against the defendants. The complaint alleged that Martinez was diagnosed with PML in November 2012 and that the defendants were negligent in failing to monitor her for new signs and symptoms of PML and in failing to follow the “boxed warning” regarding Tysabri. The complaint also alleged that Martinez did not know and could not have known that the defendants failed to comply with the standards of care until after she discovered the medication’s warnings in June 2015. This complaint was voluntarily dismissed in October 2015.

In October 2016, Martinez refiled the original complaint but included a physician’s report. In April 2017, the defendants answered the refiled complaint in the form of a general denial and an affirmative defense that the action was barred by the two-year statute of limitations. In April 2018, the probate court found that Martinez was legally disabled and appointed her mother, the plaintiff, as guardian of her estate and person. The plaintiff moved for leave to file an amended complaint and to substitute the plaintiff, as guardian of Martinez’s estate, as the plaintiff and to conform the pleadings to the anticipated proofs. The defendants objected to the motion and filed a combined motion to dismiss and for summary judgment on statute of limitation grounds, directed at the October 2016 refiled complaint.

The plaintiff responded that the amended complaint was the controlling pleading and that there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether Martinez was under a legal disability when she was diagnosed with PML. The plaintiff attached the affidavit of her subsequent treating physician, a neurologist who specialized in patients with MS, who stated, in part, that Martinez “has been unable to make or communicate decisions regarding her person and has been totally unable to manage her estate or the ordinary affairs of life.” The trial court granted summary judgment in the defendants’ favor, based on Martinez’s original and refiled complaints. The plaintiff filed an appeal.

The Illinois Appellate Court held in that appeal that the plaintiff’s amended complaint was the operative pleading and that the trial court allowed the amended complaint to be filed without limitation and was obligated to accept the allegations in the amended complaint as they were pleaded, that Martinez was not bound by the allegations contained in the first two complaints, and that there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding when Martinez became legally disabled, so as to toll the statute of limitations pursuant to section 13-212(c) of the Code of Civil Procedure.

On remand, the trial court granted the defendants’ motion for reconsideration and to vacate the trial court’s May 2018 order that granted the plaintiff leave to file the amended complaint. The trial court also denied the plaintiff’s motion for leave to file the amended complaint but allowed the plaintiff to amend the original complaint to change the identity of the plaintiff from Martinez to the plaintiff, as Martinez’s guardian. The plaintiff filed an amended original complaint reflecting the plaintiff’s appointment as Martinez’s guardian and substitution as the plaintiff. The trial court subsequently granted the defendants’ motion to strike Dr. Stefoski’s affidavit, reasoning that the plaintiff was attempting to use the affidavit to contradict Martinez’s prior judicial admissions. The trial court then granted summary judgment to the defendants as to all but one of the plaintiff’s specific allegations of negligence. On November 16, 2020, the trial court granted summary judgment in the defendants’ favor on the remaining allegation of negligence. The plaintiff then filed a second appeal.

Illinois Appellate Court Opinion

Law-Of-The-Case Doctrine

The law-of-the-case doctrine bars relitigation of an issue that has already been decided in the same case such that the resolution of an issue presented in a prior appeal is binding and will control upon remand in the trial court and in a subsequent appeal before the appellate court. The doctrine applies to questions of law and fact and encompasses a court’s explicit decisions as well as those decisions made by necessary implication. The purpose of the law-of-the-case doctrine is to protect settled expectations of the parties, ensure uniformity of decisions, maintain consistency during the course of a single case, effect proper administration of justice, and bring litigation to an end.

The Illinois Appellate Court stated: “Plaintiff argues that the trial court erred by granting defendants’ motion to vacate its order granting plaintiff leave to file her amended complaint. We agree with plaintiff that the trial court disregarded our earlier ruling, which is the law of the case … on remand, the trial court nullified the pleading we held was the operative pleading that the trial court was bound to accept. Id. ¶¶ 26, 45. Therefore, the trial court’s order vacating its order that allowed plaintiff to file her amended complaint was inconsistent with our holding, was erroneous, and undercut the authority and prestige of this court.”

The Illinois Appellate Court further stated: “defendants argued that Martinez made binding admissions in her first two complaints in that she alleged that she discovered her cause of action when she learned of Tysabri’s warnings in June 2015 and did not allege that she was disabled in those complaints. Id. ¶ 34. We determined in Goering I, however, that the allegations contained in the earlier complaints were not judicial admissions. Id. ¶ 36. Therefore, the trial court erred by striking Dr. Stefoski’s affidavit and, on remand, the trial court is bound by our prior decision on this issue.”

Source Goering v. Midwest Neurology, Ltd., 2021 IL App (2d) 200735.

If you or a loved one may have been injured as a result of neurologist negligence in Illinois or in another U.S. state, you should promptly find an Illinois medical malpractice lawyer, or a medical malpractice lawyer in your state, who may investigate your neurologist malpractice claim for you and represent you or your loved one in a neurologist malpractice case, if appropriate.

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This entry was posted on Friday, December 31st, 2021 at 5:25 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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