Doctor In Malpractice Case Gets De Novo Review In Venue Dispute

In this medical malpractice case, the appellate question is what standard of review applies to an order denying a request to change venue.

Margie Kaiser had surgery at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Clinton County, Illinois. She had internal bleeding that did not resolve after the operation. She was transferred to St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in St. Clair County, Illinois, where the doctors stopped the bleeding.

Kaiser sued the doctor who did the initial surgery in Clinton County. But she filed her lawsuit in St. Clair County. The doctor asked the trial court to transfer the case to Clinton County, arguing the facts that gave rise to the injury occurred there, not in St. Clair. The court denied the doctor’s request.

The doctor appealed. She argued for de novo [no deference to trial court] review. She asserted the motion to change venue was based on agreed facts, so the appellate court only needed to decide a question of law. Kaiser argued for the more deferential manifest-weight-of-the-evidence standard. She asserted that the trial court must have made “findings it did not articulate in its order, because whether any portion of the transaction [Kaiser’s injury] occurred in St. Clair County is a factual question on which the parties disagree.”

The Fifth District Illinois Appellate Court agreed with the doctor. Here’s why:

We agree with the defendants [doctor]. At the pleading stage, we take all well-pled facts in the plaintiff’s [Kaiser’s] complaint as true … Thus, we assume that the plaintiff received negligent care in Clinton County and postoperative care in St. Clair County. We assume that the plaintiff suffered injuries as a result of blood loss and infection. We assume that the blood loss began, as alleged, during the surgery performed in Clinton County, and we assume it continued, as alleged, until surgeons in St. Clair County were able to locate the source of the bleeding and stop it. The question before us is not whether these allegations are true. Rather, the question is whether the facts that the plaintiffs alleged took place in St. Clair County formed a “part” of the transaction. In other words, we are asked to determine whether the court below correctly determined the legal effect of the facts pled by the plaintiffs. That is a legal question. We will therefore review the defendants’ contentions de novo.

In the end, the appellate court ruled that venue was proper in St.Clair County, where Kaiser had post-operative care. Read the whole opinion, Kaiser v. Doll-Pollard, No. 5-08-0247 (2/11/10), by clicking here.