$3.25 Million Brain Aneurysm Wrongful Death Suit
Several doctors and a medical assistant failed to recognize an aneurysm until it was too late to operate successfully.
Wrongful-death suit settles for $3.25M
By Marc Karlinksy
Law Bulletin staff writer
A $3.25 million settlement has been reached in the case of a woman who died from an untreated brain aneurysm after several visits to doctors and hospitals in the days before her death.
According to the lawsuit, Teresa Ochoa suffered from migraine headaches and received treatment over several years from Downers Grove-based DuPage Medical Group.
In December 2006, Ochoa went to the Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village complaining of an unusually severe headache. Doctors gave her a pain shot and sent her home.
Three days later, with the same headache, she visited DuPage Medical Group, Dr. Mark Nelson gave her medication to treat a sinus infection.
Still in pain the next day, Ochoa visited the Alexian Brothers emergency room where Dr. Mark Gordon gave another pain shot, the suit says, but did not order any radiographic studies to determine if any larger issues were the cause.
Later that week, the suit says, she called her doctors at DuPage Medical Group. Her call was directed to a medical assistant, who advised her to take Advil. Details of her call or advised treatment were never given to Nelson by the medical assistant.
On Dec. 30, 2006, Ochoa was taken to Elmhurst Memorial Hospital, where a CT scan showed an untreated aneurysm that had begun to leak. She died Jan. 5 as a result of the bleeding in her brain.
Her sister, Gloria Ochoa, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in Cook County Circuit court in 2008 again Alexian Brothers, DuPage Medical Group and doctors Nelson and Gordon.
Ochoa’s estate alleged that the doctors’ decisions not to conduct a scan earlier in treatment made it impossible to operate on her brain once the aneurysm was found.
John M. Power, a partner at Cogan & Power P.C., represented the estate.
He said Ochoa’s treating physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in her final days told him the aneurysm would have been diagnosable at the time of her second ER visit. Chances at operating successfully were slimmer just a few days later, he said.
“He lost the opportunity to save her,” Power said about the Northwestern doctor.
Power noted that DuPage Medical Group was in a period of transition at the time of Ochoa’s death. Before the incident, the group had fired its support staff for triaging patients before they saw doctors and could receive full medical care.
Rather than relaying the information to the doctor, the DuPage medical assistant reverted back to the old practice.
“The failure by DuPage Medical Group was clearly the cause for this,” Power said.
The $3.25 million settlement, which comprises four of the defendants’ insurances policies, was approved Oct. 29 by Circuit Judge Kathy M. Flanagan.
The Ochoa family did not want to settle, Power said. But the family decided to avoid the stress of a trial after five years of pretrial legal maneuvering.
Power said the family should have received more, but agreed to the policy maximums of the defendants. He criticized DuPage Medical Group—a practice with more than 400 doctors—for not having more than $1 million in coverage.
“It’s a tragic setup for DuPage, quite frankly, to be underinsured as they are when they employ so many people and provide care to so many people,” Power said. “The family did not receive complete compensation, but in light of limited coverage, it was a satisfactory result.”
Ochoa is survived by a young daughter, now age 12. The daughter is cared for by her grandmother and aunt.
“It’s an ongoing and permanent loss for her. It’s truly heart-wrenching,” Power said. “We can now take care of her for the rest of her life.”
Alexian Brothers was represented by William Yu, a partner at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP.
DuPage Medical Group and Mark Nelson were represented by Scott A. Herbert, principle at Cunningham, Meyer & Vedrine P.C. in Warrenville.
Mark Gordon and his employer, MEA Elk Grove LLC, were represented by Robert L. Nora, partner at Nora & Tanzillo LLP.
Attorneys for the defendants could not be reached for comment today.
The case is Gloria Ochoa v. Alexian Brothers Medical Center, et al, No. 08 L 14126.