Kidney misdiagnosis yields $4.5M accord
By Marc Karlinsky
Law Bulletin staff writer
The University of Chicago Medical Center has agreed to a $4.5 million settlement with a patient who suffered kidney damages as a result of a misdiagnosis.
The agreement, approved by the hospital’s board of directors earlier this month, came without a lawsuit being filed in court.
In December 2008, then-14-year-old Michael Harris III’s pediatrician referred him to the U. of C.’s pediatric nephrology service after he showed symptoms of polycystic kidney disease (PKD)—a genetic condition that causes growths on the kidneys and other organs.
A blood test showed Harris’ kidney function was declining, and an ultrasound indicated that PDK was the likely culprit.
Doctors put Harris on medication to treat high blood pressure, and he was screened for a brain aneurysm.
Every six months, Harris returned to the U. of C. to meet with doctors about his condition.
In February 2011, he came to the hospital with nausea and a swollen abdomen. After a CT scan, doctors diagnosed him with bilateral ureteropelvic junction obstruction—blockages in the connections between the kidneys and bladder, allowing urine to back up in the kidneys and damage them.
Harris needed his right kidney removed and had several procedures to repair the obstruction on his left kidney.
Michael Paul Cogan, a partner at Cogan & Power P.C., represented Harris. He credited the hospital for being open to pursuit negotiations.
“This was a wonderful, efficient process,” Cogan said. “Cooler heads prevailed.”
Cogan took the case not long before Harris’ 18th birthday. The hospital issued a tolling agreement that waived the statute of limitations until Harris was an adult for negotiations.
Much of the process involved collection records and putting them in an understandable format so both sides could discuss them in a meaningful, educated way, Cogan said. The actual negotiations began around September.
The parties both agreed during negotiations that Harris’ kidney condition had been ongoing for most of his life and was not interrupted by the misdiagnosis.
Both sides agreed his right kidney was damaged beyond repair when he was first treated and diagnosed with PDK. But they could not agree on how much his left kidney had deteriorated between the 2008 misdiagnosis and the 2011 procedures to repair it.
“This was not a healthy kidney,” Cogan said.
He said the hospital contended the kidney would last only another eight to 10 years had it been treated in 2008, while Cogan’s experts argued it was more likely 20 to 30 years.
Harris is able to work but will need a series of new kidneys the rest of his life as transplanted ones fail over time.
“Dad donated a kidney, and so now Michael—as of about a year ago—has his dad’s kidney,” Cogan said.
The $4.5 million settlement is mainly to compensate Harris for the impact the misdiagnosis and subsequent procedures had during his teenage years, Cogan said.
“When Michael goes into renal failure—and unfortunately, he will—he automatically goes on Medicare, and Medicare will pay those bills,” Cogan said.
Handlings the negotiations out of court benefited both sides by eliminating the costs of constant service of discovered records to hired experts and the other party.
“In a case like this, …we would have spent somewhere in the range of $150,000 in out-of-pocket expenses,” he said.
The hospital was represented by Matthew L. Johnson, a shareholder at Johnson & Bell Ltd. He could not be reached for comment.
Originally published December 29, 2014 in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin