County OKs $35 million settlement in lawsuit October 6, 2005 BY STEVE PATTERSON Staff Reporter Advertisement In the past month, Cook County commissioners have approved more than $50 million to settle medical malpractice lawsuits filed against county doctors. That includes a record-setting $35 million settlement approved Wednesday -- driving the county's year-to-date total spent settling lawsuits to nearly $70 million. While some commissioners defended the settlements, saying they've saved taxpayers money by avoiding a jury trial, others are questioning the legal strategy and raising questions about who's performing surgeries at county hospitals. "It's really an indictment of our system -- the way we hire, retain and credential our doctors in our health system," Commissioner Tony Peraica said. "Unless we make a change soon, it will happen again to somebody else." 'Protect the taxpayers' interests' But Commissioner Peter Silvestri, who chairs the county's litigation subcommittee, said settling lawsuits is often "the best course of action," especially the settlement for $35 million. He called it "a fair amount and probably less than a jury would've awarded." "That's how we protect the taxpayers' interests," he said. Last year, the county spent almost $14 million settling lawsuits and this year it budgeted $54 million. Next year, $62 million will be budgeted for settlements, though each settlement is structured so the county stays within its budget, spokeswoman Caryn Stancik said. The $35 million approved Wednesday will be paid over three years to the family of Tinley Park resident Neveen Morkos, a married mother of two. Suffering stomach pains in May 2004, she was rushed to Oak Forest Hospital, where she was misdiagnosed with appendicitis and sent for emergency surgery, her suit claims. There, 78-year-old anaesthesiologist Dr. Gustavo Albear erred while inserting a breathing tube, the lawsuit claims. Morkos went without oxygen for more than 10 minutes, leaving her permanently brain-damaged. The settlement follows last month's $12 million settlement with the family of Theresa Frazier of Chicago, who claimed Stroger Hospital anaesthesiologist Dr. Carlo Franco erred when a tube was inserted in her throat before back surgery. Frazier went without oxygen for 10 minutes, her suit claims, leaving her brain-damaged.