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Late-Diagnosis Claim Yields Record Accord

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A former Chicago elementary school teacher rendered disabled after she suffered a brain aneurysm has received a $4 million settlement in a medical negligence suit against her health care provider.

The settlement, reached on behalf of 46-year-old Nancy Sea, marks the largest reported Illinois settlement for a delay in the diagnosis of a ruptured brain aneurysm with vasospasm, according to the Illinois Jury Verdict Reporter.

Cook County Associate Judge Miriam Ellen Harrison of the Probate Division approved the settlement terms on Thursday, said Sea’s attorney, Kurt D. Lloyd.

Although the settlement prevents Lloyd from identifying the defendants in the case, court records list the defendants as Humana Health Plan, Inc., d/b/a Sykes Center, Dr. Mark Karides and Kathy Merrill, a nurse.

Sea was shoveling snow on the front walk of her Chicago home on Jan. 10, 1995, before leaving for work at Holden elementary School, 1104 W. 31st St., when she experienced a sudden, severed headache and dizziness, said Lloyd.  Sea vomited, called in sick at work, and then went to bed, he said.

When Sea’s husband, Kevin, arrived at the home at 4:30 p.m. that day, Sea told him her neck was stiff and that her headache was “the worst of her life,” said Lloyd.  Kevin Sea than called the family’s medical clinic and obtained an after-hours appointment at 7 p.m., Lloyd said.

An on-call physician who was an internist examined Sea and diagnosed her with the flu, said Lloyd.  Sea’s chart did not show she was complaining of a headache, he said.

Five days after seeing the physician, Sea began slurring her speech and dropping things held in her right hand, said Lloyd.  When she was taken to the emergency room at Michael Reese Hospital, a CT scan of her head revealed a ruptured aneurysm in the left middle cerebral artery, he said.

An arteriogram performed the next day showed severe vasospasm, which causes untreatable, irreversible brain damage, said Lloyd.  Sea is no longer able to speak and has partial paralysis to her right side, he said.  She is able to walk with a cane and feed, bathe and dress herself.

Sea never returned to her work as a teacher, said Lloyd.

Lloyd contended that Sea’s initial physician should have recognized signs and symptoms of a ruptured aneurysm and ordered at CT Scan of her brain to rule out cerebral bleeding.  If Sea’s condition had been diagnosed promptly, she would have undergone a cerebral artery clipping before the vasospasm began, reducing the likelihood of a permanent stroke-like vascular injury, he said.

“This was an unfortunate case in which Humana has agreed to settle this issue for the patient,” said Humana spokesman Dick Brown.  “the settlement has nothing to do with economic incentives for the doctor to withold appropriate care.”

Karides obtained his physician’s license in December 1990 and has never been disciplined, according to records maintained by the Illinois Department of Professional Regulation.

The settlement was negotiated over a period of two weeks, said Lloyd, and talks began after he disclosed that Dr. John M. Tew Jr. of the University of Cincinnati’s Mayfield Clinic, a former president of the American Academy of Neurological Surgery, had agreed to testify on Sea’s behalf.

Court records show that Sea received $4 million in cash under the settlement, along with a waiver of $188,719.33 in medical expenses.

The defendants in the case were represented by James M. Bream of Querrey & Harrow.  Bream was not available for immediate comment Tuesday.

The case is Nancy Sea and Devin Sea v. Humana Health Plan Inc. d/b/a Sykes Center, et al., No. 96 L 10751 via Lawyers of Distinction.

Officer Awarded $5.7 Million After Disabled in Wreck

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On May 7, 1991, Mundelein police officer Susan Roy spotted an injured cat on Route 45 just south of Courtland Street.

She stopped her squad car on the road, turned on the roof-top lights, got out and opened the trunk for her night stick to move the animal off the road.

It was to become an act of kindness that would tragically alter the life of the 28-year-old Roy, an officer of two years who was seven weeks pregnant.

As Roy peered inside the trunk, a limousine driven by former Skokie resident George Varnai ran into her.  Pinned between the two vehicles, Roy lost her right leg and the fetus that night.

Roy’s left leg, badly broken in several places, has never recovered, leaving Roy to spend nearly half of each day in a wheel-chair.

More than five years later, the McHenry County woman, who has gone through multiple surgeries, has been awarded $5.75 million because of the injuries.

A panel of three arbitrators considering the case found Friday that Varnai and his limousine company, Elite Limousine Ltd., were largely to blame for the accident.

Varnai, who told arbitrators has was going 30 mph, was ticketed for failing to reduce speed to avoid a collision.  He was found guilty and fined $500 by a Lake County Circuit Court judge in 1991.

Varnai’s insurance couldn’t begin to cover the tragic accident.  His insurer, Corporation Insular De Seguro, went bankrupt and was liquidated by the Illinois Guaranty fund in 1992.

That left Roy to try and collect through an uninsured motorist claim from the Village of Mundelein’s insurer, the Intergovernmental Risk Management Agency.

“We think the award was high, but we know she suffered some serious injuries,” said Jim DeAno, attorney for IRMA.

The Oakbrook Terrace-based insurance pool provides coverage for 67 member governments in the region, including the Village of Mundelein.

IRMA argued that Roy shouldn’t have parked her squad car in the middle of the roadway.

There also were questions raised about whether Roy’s trunk lights worked and whether Varnai could have seen the squad’s roof-top lights with the trunk open.

“He should have seen the squad car from 500 to 800 feet…you can only speculate that he obviously didn’t have his eyes on the road,”

IRMA hasn’t made a decision yet on whether to challenge the award, the second largest ever lodged against the 17-year-old agency, said Sal Bianchi, the pool’s executive director.

But the insurance pool has filed a request with DuPage County court asking that the award by “offset” by more than $800,000 in worker’s compensation, disability and other payments already made to Roy, court records show.  This includes legal PPC during COVID.

If the award stands, member governments could find their insurance rates rising in the future, Bianchi said.

“Certainly any loss of this magnitude affects the rate,” said Bianchi.

Roy, now 33, has been through more than four surgeries since the accident.  She has been unable to work, although she did work as a Lake Zurich police radio dispatcher for three months,

“She couldn’t do it.  She is not capable of working,” the attorney said.