Posted on Jan 31, 2007
Jury backs doctor in malpractice case
By SANFORD J. SCHMIDT, The Telegraph 01/31/2007
EDWARDSVILLE - Madison County took a big step toward bucking its reputation as a plaintiff's paradise Tuesday evening when a jury took just over three hours to return a defense verdict on behalf of a Collinsville doctor accused in a multimillion-dollar negligence case.
Jurors awarded zero damages to the main case plaintiff, Doug Storm of Glen Carbon, who had sued Dr. Patrick Zimmerman for his alleged failure to have a cancerous mole correctly analyzed after it was removed from Storm's wife, Maria, in a procedure in 2005.
Prominent to plaintiff's attorney Rex Carr of East St. Louis had asked a jury award his clients up to $11 million. The case was the year's first medical malpractice test in Madison County and had been going on two weeks.
Carr had claimed Zimmerman should have sent a mole excised from Storm's back to a lab to be analyzed.
"He had the ability to be 100 percent certain. That's not just malpractice; it's gross negligence," Carr argued before the jury.
Zimmerman's lawyer, Ted Dennis, argued the mole might not have been the primary cause of the cancer that ended up in other parts of Maria Storm's body and took her life.
Dennis argued the cancer may have been at the most advanced stage, stage 4, before Storm even visited Zimmerman.
The estate of Storm, a former schoolteacher who was 36 when she died in December 2005, and her husband, Doug Storm, sued, claiming that if Zimmerman had sent the mole away to a lab, Maria Storm would have had a much greater chance of survival.
Storm died of melanoma, the most severe skin cancer. It had spread to a lymph node and then to her liver.
She filed the original lawsuit in 1999 and died after the suit was filed, so an amended complaint was filed after her death. She visited Zimmerman in August 1999.
Carr said Maria and Doug Storm had two children, Adam and Peter. She gave up her teaching profession temporarily to stay home to care for the children.
Carr, who has won a number of verdicts in Madison County through the years, had urged the jury to award damages for loss of future earnings, medical expenses and loss of the love and companionship with the children and the husband.
The mole was on Maria Storm's back, near her spine. A mole in that location was removed before she went to visit Zimmerman, but it reappeared later, then became reddened, itchy and painful.
Zimmerman said on the witness stand that only a small fraction of the moles he has removed turned out to be cancerous. He said he could not specifically recall the visit in question, but the doctor said Storm did not report the itching and pain from the mole.
Carr argued that the size of the mole and its color should have been enough to have it analyzed.
Carr said Zimmerman was attempting to blame Storm for the alleged lapse that took her life.
The jury returned the verdict after 6 p.m., when the courthouse was closed. Parties to the case could not be reached later in the evening.
If the case were filed today, the possible "non-economic damages," such as loss of love and companionship, would have been limited to $1 million, after the Illinois Legislature passed a malpractice liability reform bill in 2005.
Madison County's reputation as a "judicial hellhole" built solid steam through the years on the heels of numerous large plaintiffs' verdicts and lawsuit settlements. The situation got to the point where doctors were leaving the county in huge numbers because their malpractice insurance was too high or not attainable. The situation has eased somewhat in recent months.