Doctors Behaving Badly: Illinois obstetrician’s malpractice case leaves one patient victorious, others stonewalled
For medical malpractice attorneys in Chicago, Dr. Robert Levi-D'Ancona's name sounds like victory. For patients, however, his name could become synonymous with a major patient safety defeat.
Levi-D'Ancona delivered a baby girl in 2005: Abigaile LeBron. The delivery went badly, and Abigaile ended up with severe mental and physical impairments. That same year, the Illinois legislature passed a tort reform bill that amended earlier state malpractice laws and capped non-economic damages at $500,000. This would mean, in essence, that because Abigaile hadn't held a job as an infant, she and her family wouldn't be able to recover more than that, including their legal fees.
Her mother, Frances LeBron, filed suit in 2006 against Levi-D'Ancona, the delivery nurse and Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, where Abigaile was born, alleging that because of the failures on the part of all three Abigaile ended up with, among other things, cerebral palsy and a lifelong reliance on a gastronomy tube.
LeBron's attorney saw an opportunity to go after that malpractice cap, too. Jeff Goldberg took the case all the way to the Illinois Supreme Court, which struck down the state's malpractice cap in February. Plaintiffs' attorneys and many law professors cheered the ruling as a victory for patients, and the case now is being dissected in great detail by legal scholars, patient advocates and bloggers of all stripes.
Even Levi-D'Ancona's attorney, Richard H. Donohue, had to admit defeat, telling the ABA Journal, "Pick your deity. Buddha, Allah, Muhammad, Moses or Jesus Christ, or whoever you believe in, could not get a damage cap in the state of Illinois."
What patient advocates didn't say, though, was that the court also took away a key piece of patient protection.
The same law that allowed the state to limit malpractice payments also allowed it in 2008 to create a searchable database of detailed physician profiles that gave patients access to physicians' educational backgrounds, their disciplinary histories and their legal records.
After the LeBron ruling, all of that disappeared. When patients go to the Physician Profile page of the state's Division of Professional Regulation, they are met with a statement saying that the Supreme Court ruling has forced the agency to shut the profile page down: The Department is reviewing its options for reinstatement and apologizes for any inconvenience.
Coming Friday: What do you do when the doctor database for an entire state goes dark?