In Illinois, plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases have the burden of proving that the treatment provided to them by their doctors fell below the expected standard of care for similarly situated doctors in their same fields and geographic areas. If a plaintiff cannot meet his or her burden of proof for each of the elements of a medical malpractice claim, the plaintiff will not prevail. Recently, the Illinois Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision and upheld the burden of proof expected of plaintiffs in medical malpractice lawsuits.

Factual and procedural background

A woman went to the emergency department of the Mercy Hospital and Medical Center. While she was there, she decided to leave the hospital against the recommendations of the doctors. She subsequently passed away, and her estate sued four doctors involved for medical malpractice. They alleged that the doctors should have provided informed consent to her about the possible risks of the woman’s choice to leave the hospital. The case went to trial, and the plaintiffs asked the court to give two jury instructions, including an informed consent instruction for the woman’s discharge and a lost chance instruction explaining that the woman’s lost chance for treatment could result in compensation.

Supreme Court decision

The trial court refused to give the two instructions and instead gave a proximate cause instruction. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendants, and the plaintiff appealed. The Illinois Appellate Court reversed the trial court, finding that the plaintiff should have a new trial with the two proposed instructions given. However, the state’s Supreme Court affirmed the trial court and reversed the appellate court, rejecting the inverse instructions and holding that the plaintiff had failed to meet the burden of proof required in medical malpractice cases.

This decision illustrates that plaintiffs in medical malpractice cases have to show that their doctors’ negligence directly or proximately caused their injuries and losses. Plaintiffs cannot avoid their burden of proof by providing instructions that would reduce it.

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