Chicago's Buried Bodies Part 2: Millions in malpractice judgments amount to nothing in Illinois

Published on
June 28, 2010

Surely if a doctor has gone to trial in a malpractice case and been ordered to pay millions by a judge or jury, this would catch the attention of the Illinois Division of Professional Regulation.

This is what I was thinking when reading about some recent huge malpractice judgments against doctors in the Chicago area. I tried to see if any information about these payments showed up in the state's professional license lookup system.

Every attempt ended in disappointment.

Dr. Steven Armbrust, a family practice doctor in Wheaton, Ill., was sued by Aaron and Michelle Hayes, the parents of Benjamin Hayes, accusing him of delaying a C-section and causing Benjamin brain damage. According to court documents:

Specifically, plaintiffs alleged that Dr. Armbrust negligently delayed the cesarean section delivery of Benjamin by (1) obtaining an operating room for Michelle too late and (2) failing to take steps to slow Michelle's contractions after Dr. Armbrust decided that a cesarean section was necessary.

Armbrust defended his actions that day and fought the lawsuit. A jury found in favor of the Hayes family and awarded them $12 million.

There is no mention of that malpractice judgment on the Illinois site. All you find out is that Armbrust was licensed in 1987, and that his license will expire in 2011.

Armbrust appealed and the state appellate court ruled that Armburst should have been allowed to present an alternate theory of what causes Benjamin's brain damage during the initial trial. The case will now have to be retried. But, for now, shouldn't patients be told of this malpractice award?

And it's not just malpractice awards still being litigated that are absent from the state's site. Dr. Alexander C. Miller was ordered to pay $1.2 million after a jury found against him in a malpractice case following a spine surgery that left a woman with permanent nerve damage. An appeals court upheld the verdict. As far as patients looking for a spine surgeon know, though, Miller has a verdict-free record.

As my editor suggested, though, can't some of these records be found the old-fashioned way? By calling the Illinois Division of Professional Regulation?

First, there is no public affairs officer, as far as Antidote could tell, for the agency. The only contact information provided on the site is a phone number for its offices in Springfield or Chicago.

According to the phone message at the Springfield office, the Chicago office "handles enforcement matters," so Antidote dialed 312-814-4500.

The message says, "For inquiries about a health profession, press 3." Press 3, and you are told to call 312-814-4560. I dialed that number and was told, "The number you have reached is disconnected or is no longer in service."

So, I called back. This time, I waited for the option "for media representatives," which told me to press 5. I did. Then a message told me to call the Chicago office at 312-814-5304. I dialed that number and was told, "The number you have reached is disconnected or is no longer in service."

Is there an echo here?

Most patients don't have the patience, no pun intended, to jump through so many hoops to try to find out information about their doctor. If they punch in their doctor's name and are told, in effect, that they have a clean record, that is what they are going to use to make their decision about which doctor to choose for their health plan, to see for that lump in their breast, to ask for a second opinion.

A doctor's background should be transparent and should not be buried under so many layers of bureaucracy.

Related posts:

Chicago's Buried Bodies, Part 1: Illinois regulators make backgrounding doctors near-impossible

Doctors Behaving Badly: Illinois obstetrician's malpractice case leaves one patient victorious, others stonewalled