$3.2 Million Hospital and Physician Wrongful Death Suit
“An open ICU like Palos is fine as long as the doctors talk to each other…But when you have a situation where you have five physicians who are all supposed to be involved, carrying out their responsibilities by making phone calls to a nurse rather than to each other…these things will happen.” Michael Cogan
Hospital and physicians settle wrongful-death suit for $3.2M
By Jenn Ballard
Law Bulletin staff writer
The husband of a woman who died from complications after a hysterectomy has received a $3.2 million settlement in Cook County Circuit Court.
In September 2008, Toni Koval, 53, underwent the procedure at Palos Community Hospital in Palos Heights.
The surgery was completed without incident and the operating surgeon assigned Dr. Jack Doah to perfrom Koval’s follow-up care.
The next day, Koval developed severe abdominal pain. The doctor at the facility recommended Koval—whose blood pressure dropped, heart rate increased and respiration rate increased—be admitted into the intensive care unit, which Doah approved, the suit alleged.
After being admitted to the ICU, Doah designated that Koval’s family practice physician take over as her primary attending doctor while she was in the ICU. Koval’s family practice physician was not available, so his associate, Dr. Raymond DiPasquo, was assigned.
DiPasquo requested pulmonary, cardiology and infectious disease consultations. Doah, DiPasquo and the three specialists never visited Koval for diagnosis, the suit alleged.
When Koval experienced a respiratory arrest, multiple physicians in the hospital responded, and she was intubated.
With her abdomen rigid and swollen, she was readied for surgery. A hole was discovered in her colon, which allowed fecal matter and gastric liquids to seep into her abdominal cavity after the hysterectomy.
The surgeon tried to close the hole and clean the abdominal cavity, but Koval died the following day from complications of sepsis, peritonitis and organ failure.
Koval’s husband, Joseph Koval, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the hospital, Doah and DiPasquo.
Michael Paul Cogan, a partner at Cogan & Power P.C., represented the estate.
Cogan said the case highlights the potentially dangerous situation that can occur in a hospital that houses an open ICU.
Instead of being staffed by physicians 24/7 who are specifically trained in intensive care medicine, Cogan said, an open ICU does not necessarily have a physician present. Any physician can serve as a patient’s attending doctor.
Had a physician examined Koval’s abdomen when she was admitted to the ICU, Cogan said, “it would have been obvious that she had a surgery abdomen and curative surgery would have taken place.”
“This should have been a no brainer,” Cogan said. “Dr. Doah should have seen the patient, evaluated her hands-on and made his own determinations as to what was going on.”
Cogan said the doctors should have communicated better.
“An open ICU like Palos is fine as long as the doctors talk to each other,” he said.
“But when you have a situation where you have five physicians who are all supposed to be involved, carrying out their responsibilities by making phone calls to a nurse rather than to each other… things like this will happen.”
Matthew J. Egan, a partner at Pretzel & Stouffer Chtd. Who represented the hospital, said settling the case before it went to trial was the better option for his client.
“From our perspective, it was a business decision to put this potentially risky case behind us,” he said. “Even though we felt—as all of the defendants felt—there were solid defenses in our compliance with care.”
Kevin Joseph Burke, a partner at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, represented Doah. James W. Kopriva—a partner at Cassiday, Schade LLP—represented DiPasquo. They could not be reached for comment.
Associate Judge Patrick F. Lustig approved the settlement on May 9.