William F. Cunningham

Partner - DuPage County Office
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William F. Cunningham – Recent Cases & News

June 2013

William Cunningham and Scott A. Herbert successfully defended four neonatologists in a medical malpractice lawsuit in Cook County. The minor plaintiff was born at 26 weeks weighing 940 grams. On day 15 of life, he was diagnosed with E. Coli Sepsis. Due to complications related to sepsis, he eventually required a below the knee amputation of his right leg. Plaintiff alleged that the minor developed sepsis and blood clots in his right leg because an umbilical artery catheter was kept in for 13 days and that it should have been removed after 5 days. Plaintiff also alleged that the Defendants failed to timely recognize and treat sepsis. Plaintiff further claimed that the sepsis contributed to the minor’s brain injury and that he would need 24/7 care for the rest of his life. Plaintiffs asked the jury to award between $27,000,000 and $37,000,000.

The defense contended that due to the minor’s worsening lung condition and a PDA that was not closing with medication, it was necessary to keep the umbilical artery catheter in place. Further, that the child’s sepsis was unrelated to the catheter and was timely diagnosed and treated. In addition, that any brain injury the minor had was due to prematurity and the fact that he needed resuscitation at birth.

After a three week trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of all defendants after deliberating for approximately 4.5 hours.

June 2012

William Cunningham and Scott Herbert successfully defended an obstetrician in a medical malpractice lawsuit in DuPage County. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant OB was professionally negligent for not performing a C-section when the fetal monitor strips showed evidence of fetal distress. In addition, the mother had a previous delivery complicated by shoulder dystocia. During the vaginal delivery, the defendant OB encountered a shoulder dystocia that required the use of multiple maneuvers to relieve it. Due to the prolonged dystocia, the newborn required extensive resuscitation after delivery. Plaintiffs alleged that as a result of the vaginal delivery, the minor sustained a permanent brachial plexus injury and a hypoxic brain injury that would require her to have specialized care for the rest of her life. The defense contended that there was nothing on the fetal monitor strips that required the defendant OB to abandon a vaginal trial of labor and proceed with a C-section. Further, that the plaintiff had an inherited learning disorder and did not have a hypoxic brain injury, as no imaging studies ever showed evidence of a brain injury. The Plaintiffs asked the jury to award $6,500,000 to $9,800,000.

May 2012

William Cunningham and Scott Herbert successfully defended a general surgeon in a medical malpractice lawsuit in DuPage County. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant surgeon used an improper technique during a hernia repair surgery resulting in the development of an abdominal hematoma due to an injury to an artery. Following the development of the hematoma, plaintiff went into renal failure and required multiple hospitalizations. The defense contended that the hematoma was unrelated to the technique used by the surgeon and that it was due to a pre-existing bleeding disorder. After a two week trial, the jury only deliberated 1.5 hours before returning a verdict in favor of the defendant surgeon.

September 2011

Cunningham Meyer & Vedrine partners to moderate panels at CBA Medical Litigation Summit 2011

Along with other leaders in the medical malpractice arena, CMV partners William F. Cunningham and Michael R. Slovis will participate as moderators in the three-day educational program in Napa, California, September 11 -14, 2011. Bringing together insurers, judges, plaintiff counsel and defense attorneys at one summit conference under the mantle of the Chicago Bar Association, topics are planned to be timely and practical in their application to all attendees.

William F. Cunningham will moderate a panel on Avoiding Expert Witness Traps at Trial. With both plaintiff and defense attorneys from notable Chicago firms and the Honorable Thomas Hogan as panelists, Mr. Cunningham will have an opportunity to preside over a lively exchange of techniques and experiences.

Michael R. Slovis will moderate a panel on Handling the Effects of Popular Media and Social Media on a Jury. With Facebook, Twitter and other electronic media in the legal news daily, Mr. Slovis will preside over a distinguished five person panel that includes a representative from the State’s Attorney’s Office and the Honorable Clare McWilliams along with a social media researcher and plaintiff and defense counsel. The sharing of ideas from five different facets of the topic should be revealing to all.

July 2011

William F. Cunningham to speak at ACI 10th Annual Advanced Forum on Obstetric Malpractice at the Union League in Philadelphia presented by the American Conference Institute” Click for complete article

May 2011

William Cunningham and Kathleen Vece successfully defended a general surgeon in a case in Kane County. The case involved a middle-aged woman who had a laproscopic hernia repair surgery in August 2004 after having undergone several prior abdominal surgeries. The hernia surgery required extensive lysis, or cutting, of adhesions. After the surgery, the plaintiff remained in the hospital. On the third post-operative day, CMV’s client and a partner of the initial surgeon took over the care of the plaintiff. Based on a few abnormal, but not alarming symptoms, he ordered labs, a CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis, a CT scan of the chest and a Doppler Ultrasound of the legs. The CT revealed no evidence of a bowel leak. The labs were unremarkable. The Doppler showed no DVT and the CT scan of the chest showed no evidence of pulmonary embolism. Two days after that, five days post-operatively, the defendant doctor ordered another CT scan of the abdomen, which revealed a definite leak in the bowel. The doctor immediately took the patient to surgery, watched her and performed several other surgeries over the next few weeks and eventually transferred her to Loyola University Medical Center for wound closure. It was argued at trial that the doctor’s persistence and good surgical judgment saved the plaintiff’s life. At trial, the plaintiff alleged the initial surgeon, also a defendant, caused a tear in the bowel that was half the circumference of the intestine. It was also alleged that the other follow-up physician, CMV’s client, was responsible for a two day delay in the diagnosis. There was a joint defense presented. By utilizing an I-Pad, the defense was able to show the CT scans from August 20th and August 22nd and clearly display to the jury that there was no leak until August 22nd when the plaintiff was taken back to surgery. The plaintiff asked for approximately $2.0 million at trial. After less than an hour deliberating, the jury returned a verdict in favor of both defendants.

September 2010

William Cunningham and Barbara Prohaska obtained summary judgment and final dismissal of a sixteen count complaint on behalf of its clients that included a local Hospital, its CEO, and several individual members of its Medical Executive Committee. The sixteen count complaint was premised upon corporate liability and sought a declaratory judgment and monetary damages premised upon allegations of breach of contract, tortious interference of contract, interference with prospective economic advantage, negligence, libel, slander, defamation, and false light invasion of privacy, among others. The defenses raised by the Defendants based on the Health Care Quality Improvement Act, the Illinois Hospital Licensing Act, and Illinois statutes served as a basis for the Court’s ruling in favor of Defendants. CMV partners Bill Cunningham and Barbara Prohaska represent the Defendants in the pending appeal taken by the plaintiff.

August 2010

William Cunningham and Scott Herbert successfully defended two Obstetrician/Gynecologists and their practice in a medical negligence lawsuit in DuPage County, Illinois.

In August of 2004, plaintiff, then age 30, delivered her third child. 12 days later, she began having heavy vaginal bleeding and was sent to the ER where she was evaluated by one of the Defendants. Based on his examination, as well as the results of an ultrasound, he thought that plaintiff’s post partum hemorrhage was likely due to retained products of conception (pieces of placental tissue still attached to the uterine wall). Therefore, he took her to the operating room for a suction dilatation and curettage (D&C). In addition, he treated her with two different medications that help the uterus contract in an effort to stop the bleeding.

When the D&C and medications did not stop or slow the bleeding, he asked his senior partner for a second opinion. Both Defendants then performed exploratory surgery in an effort to identify the source of the bleeding. However, they found that there was not one source and that the bleeding in the uterus was diffuse. Based on the amount of blood plaintiff had already lost, approximately one third to one half of total blood volume, and the rate at which she was bleeding, the Defendants performed a total abdominal hysterectomy to stop the bleeding.

Plaintiff alleged that in addition to being unable to have any more children, as a result of the hysterectomy, she experiences severe pelvic pain on a daily basis. Based on her complaints of pain, she was seen at the Mayo Clinic where she had surgery to remove scar tissue.

The defense of the case was complicated by the fact that a subsequent treating Ob/Gyn from a prominent University Hospital in Chicago, who regularly appears in the media and on shows like Oprah Winfrey, testified that both Defendants deviated from the standard of care by not try other methods to save the uterus before performing a hysterectomy including, other medications, a uterine artery embolization, uterine packing, compression sutures or a uterine artery ligation and that any of these methods likely would have avoided the need to perform the hysterectomy. Her testimony and criticisms were almost identical to those of Plaintiff’s retained expert, an Ob/Gyn from Manhattan. Further, both experts opined that plaintiff’s chronic pelvic pain was likely due to scar tissue from the hysterectomy.

The defense presented two experts, an Ob/Gyn from a University Hospital in Chicago, who opined that the Defendants acted appropriately in performing the hysterectomy when they did, as they saved the plaintiff’s life and an anesthesiologist, who testified that the plaintiff’s blood loss was significant and that she was at risk for going into shock or DIC when the hysterectomy was performed.

After a two week trial, the jury deliberated for less than four hours before returning a verdict in favor of the Ob/Gyns and their practice. The plaintiff asked for $3,500,000.

November 2009

William Cunningham and Beth Szerlong successfully defended two pathologists in a medical negligence lawsuit in DuPage County, Illinois. The care and treatment at issue took place in July of 1999.

The Plaintiff presented with a three month history of a non-healing tongue ulcer. She also had a history of smoking a pack per day for approximately 25 years. Her physician subsequently performed an excisional biopsy and one of the defendant pathologists interpreted a frozen section of the ulcer intraoperatively. After reviewing the frozen section the Defendant advised the physician that the diagnosis favored squamous cell carcinoma. However, after the biopsy was completed, the Defendant reviewed the complete sample that was submitted and found no evidence of cancer. He then had his colleague review the slides as a second opinion. Both pathologists agreed that there was evidence of squamous cell carcinoma on the frozen section slides and, therefore, they rendered a diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma. Following this diagnosis, Plaintiff underwent radiation therapy and experienced side effects from that treatment.

After the radiation therapy, one of the Plaintiff’s treating physicians sent out the pathology slides from the biopsy, for review by his own pathologist, at a local university hospital. That pathologist disagreed with the diagnosis of cancer made by the Defendants. The specimens were then sent to a specialist in oral pathology of the tongue, who also disagreed with the diagnosis of cancer.

Plaintiff contented that due to the Defendants’ professional negligence, she underwent debilitating radiation therapy that left her with permanent injuries to her ability to taste, swallow and eat normally. In addition, she claimed a variety of other physical and psychological injuries.

The Defense argued that the review and interpretation of the pathology slides by the Defendants was reasonable and that proper procedure was followed. Additionally, the defense contended that the diagnosis of cancer was the correct diagnosis.

After a two week trial, the jury deliberated for approximately five hours before returning a verdict in favor of the defendant pathologists.

November, 2009

William Cunningham and Scott Herbert successfully defended two general surgeons in a wrongful death medical negligence lawsuit in DuPage County, Illinois. The care and treatment at issue took place in July of 1999.

Plaintiff’s decedent was a 38 year old woman with a rare disease, Zollinger Ellison Syndrome, that caused ulcers in her dudodenum. After one of the ulcers healed, it caused a stricture in her small intestine that needed to be corrected surgically. Five days after the corrective surgery was performed by the defendant surgeons, Plaintiff’s decedent died from a massive pulmonary embolism (PE). Plaintiff’s expert testified that the PE was from a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) that broke off from the deep veins in one of her legs and traveled to her lungs. The surgeons ordered that SCDs (sequential compression device) and TED hose be used for 5 days post-operatively in order to prevent a DVT. They did not order anticoagulation medication, such as heparin, as it was contraindicated due to the fact that Plaintiff’s decedent had an epidural for post-operative pain management, as well as her history of ulcerative disease. Two days after surgery, a former partner of the defendant surgeons ordered that the SCDs should be discontinued. Although one of the defendant surgeons testified that he gave a verbal order to a nurse to follow his original order instead, no such verbal order was ever recorded in the chart. In addition, even though the surgeons had ordered that they wanted the patient to ambulate four times a day, the nurses’ charting showed that she was unable to ambulate at certain times post-operatively because her legs were numb from the epidural.

Plaintiff’s expert, a pulmonologist and critical care specialist, opined that the surgeons were negligent for failing to write an order to keep the SCDs on after their partner discontinued them and for failing to have the epidural removed and start the patient on heparin on post-operative day two when she was having trouble ambulating.

The defense presented three experts, a local general surgeon, an anesthesiologist/pain specialist and an OB/Gyn from the University of North Carolina, who has written extensively on the use of DVT prophylaxis, all of whom opined that the care and treatment was appropriate and within the standard of care and that whether to remove an epidural is a decision that is ultimately made by the pain specialists not the general surgeons.

After a two week trial, the jury deliberated for four and a half hours before returning a verdict in favor of the defendant surgeons, as well as the co-defendant gastroenterologist.

March, 2009

William Cunningham and Bethann Szerlong successfully defended a cardiologist in a medical negligence lawsuit in Kane County Illinois. The defendant cardiologist provided care to the plaintiff for complaints of chest pain after a referral from her primary care practitioner. Plaintiff alleged that due to her history of chest pain he was negligent in failing to evaluate her history, failing to perform an EKG and failing to admit the plaintiff for angiography. The plaintiff passed away as a result of a cardiac related condition 22 months later.

The defense was supported by experts from Houston in cardiac imaging and cardiac pathology. The defense theory was that at the time she was seen by our cardiologist, her symptoms were not cardiac in origin based on a negative myoview image study and that the scars found in her heart tissue at autopsy were not present 22 months earlier when seen by our client.

There were three other defendants. All were found not guilty as well. Our cardiologist was generally regarded as the target. The plaintiff had been offered close to $1 million to settle but would not give a demand.

The trial, which lasted four weeks, resulted in a verdict in favor of all defendants. Plaintiff’s counsel requested an award of $10 million.