In TV and movie trial dramas, we are always shown a jury hotly debating over the case facts, with one or two jurors holding out against the rest of the jury. However, in Illinois, in order for a jury verdict to stand it needs to be unanimous. This means that if even one of the jurors cannot agree with the rest of the jury, then the judge finds the jury to be deadlocked and declares a mistrial.
This occurred in the Illinois wrongful death lawsuit of Estate of Steven Prehn, deceased v. Dr. Sandeep Amin, University Anesthesiologists S.C., 07 L 1115. After the jury debated for over ten hours over the course of two days it was still unable to reach an unanimous decision. While nine jurors were in favor of the plaintiff, the remaining three jurors were in favor of the defendant doctor.
Prehn involved the death of a 46 year-old father of three from a pain medication overdose. Steven Prehn had visited Dr. Amin, a pain management specialists, at his Rush Pain Center facility with complaints of chronic pain. Dr. Amin prescribed Methadone, an opiate or narcotic medication typically prescribed to treat moderate to severe pain. Twenty-six hours after the office visit, Prehn was found dead at his home from a Methadone overdose.
Prehn’s estate filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Dr. Amin and his medical association, University Anesthesiologists, S.C., for his alleged negligence in over-prescribing Prehn’s pain medication. The complaint alleged that Amin’s prescription of two Methadone tablets every six hours for the first 24 hours of treatment would result in a total of 80 mg., a potentially lethal dose.
And while it would seem that testimony regarding the Dr. Amin’s instructions for starting and taking the Methadone would be key to proving the estate’s case, it barred any testimony or information regarding Dr. Amin’s instructions to Prehn. The Illinois Dead Man’s Act prohibits anyone who has an interest in the litigation from testifying about conversations or events that occurred in the presence of the decedent. The idea behind the Dead Man’s Act is that the decedent can’t testify for himself and so the other party is prohibited from testifying so as not to bias the jury by presenting one-sided testimony.
So while Dr. Amin was unable to testify specifically about his conversation with Prehn, the defense was able to enter evidence stating that the Methadone dosage was appropriate. In order to support its claim, the defense referred to the Physician’s Desk Reference, a prescription guideline manual, which stated that a dose of 80 mg of Methadone in the first 24 hours was permissible in a narcotic-tolerant patient.
Furthermore, the defendants maintained that if Prehn had correctly followed Dr. Amin’s instructions that he should have taken a maximum of 8 to 10 pills by the time of his death. However, the defense asserted that 20 pills were reportedly missing from Prehn’s Methadone bottle according to a report by the Will County Coroner’s Office. Likewise, the autopsy and toxicology report showed that Prehn had additional medications in his system that were not prescribed by Dr. Amin.
Without Prehn’s account of what happened, the jury seemed unable to come to an unanimous decision regarding the wrongful death lawsuit. Again, while some felt that Dr. Amin had negligently prescribed an incorrect Methadone dosage that then led to Prehn’s death, others felt that Prehn had failed to take the dosage based on Dr. Amin’s orders. After determining that they were unable to come to one conclusion, the jury was declared deadlocked and the case a mistrial.
However, because the plaintiff and defense attorneys had entered into a high/low agreement prior to the conclusion of the Will County trial, the family was able to recover some damages for Prehn’s death. The agreement, negotiated by Prehn’s lawyers, Craig Galasso and John Goggin, was for a maximum of $2 million payout and a minimum of $500,000. Because the jury was hung, the estate was awarded the low award of $500,000.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling Illinois prescription error cases for individuals and families for more than 36 years in and around Chicago, Cook County, and surrounding areas, including Waukegan, Morton Grove, Des Plaines, Evergreen Park, Bellwood, Melrose Park, and Schiller Park.
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