Lake County Gazette

Lake County Gazette

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Family wins $2.3 million settlement after woman dies during routine gallbladder surgery

Local Government

By Sarah Downey | Sep 29, 2019

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The family of a Chicago woman who died during routine gallbladder surgery was awarded $2.3 million in a confidential settlement approved last week by a Cook County Circuit Court judge.

“The assistant medical examiner who performed the autopsy found that this woman had died of natural causes, so at first nobody realized that it was actually a surgeon’s mistake that caused this lady’s death,” Sean Burke, an attorney for the patient’s family in the wrongful death suit, told the Lake County Gazette.

The 49-year-old woman’s surgery took place in 2015 at the Chicago hospital where she worked as a mammography technician, Burke said.

The autopsy failed to consider the circumstances of the surgery, Burke said, and the family retained him, as well as attorneys Stephen Phalen and David Bawcum, to pursue litigation against the hospital and the surgeon who performed the operation. Medical records, operative reports and anesthesia records were reviewed by a general surgeon Burke has known for some time. 

“He told me that it was absolutely not a situation that the lady died of natural causes,” Burke said. “She died of a CO2 gas embolism, meaning that, in this kind of surgery to remove the gallbladder, the abdomen is inflated with CO2 gas and then you operate kind of inside a tent. But when the surgeon first inserted the needle – the CO2 gas needle – to inflate the belly, it punctured the liver with a giant bubble of CO2 gas that went to the heart and stopped the flow of blood from this lady’s heart to her lungs. If blood doesn’t flow to the lungs, the whole respiratory system stops and you die.”

“The attorneys for the surgeon and hospital argued that the blind-entry technique satisfied the standard of care, but this negligent decision was the direct cause of the patient’s death,” according to a press release on the settlement.

“It was a confidential settlement,” said Burke, whose practice is in Lake Forest. “What happened is we had a mediation with a judge on Aug. 29, and it was agreed by the parties to resolve the case for $2.3 million.”

A judge approved the settlement on Sept. 17, Burke said.

“It is very important for the family because they lost the rock or sort of the center of their family,” Burke said. “They all depended on her, she took care of her two elderly parents. She purchased one house and took care of her parents and helped her sister’s family buy another house just down the street.

“It is called a laparoscopic cholecystectomy, that’s the formal name, but it’s a very routine procedure,” Burke added. “Nobody should die from laparoscopic cholecystectomy, it just shouldn’t happen.”

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