FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 2, 2016
Contact: Eric W. Boyer, Esq.
305.670.1101 Ext. 1023
QPWB ATTORNEY SCORES DEFENSE VICTORY
CHICAGO – QPWB partner, Laura G. Postilion, obtained judgment for the defense on behalf of her clients, Rockford Memorial Hospital and Lori Ortberg, LCSW. Plaintiff alleged that 48 year old Keith Stanphill presented to Rockford Memorial Hospital’s Employee Assistance Program [“EAP”] for an assessment and referral to a counselor. EAP counselor, Lori Ortberg, assessed Mr. Stanphill and determined that he suffered from adjustment disorder with depressed mood due to marital stressors occasioned by the suspected infidelity of his wife, Susan Stanphill. Ms. Ortberg referred Mr. Stanphill to a local counselor, Norm Dasenbrook. An appointment was made with Mr. Dasenbrook. Approximately six days later, Mr. Stanphill committed suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Plaintiff alleged that Ms. Ortberg was negligent for failing to identify that the decedent was suicidal, failing to perform a complete mental health evaluation, failing to properly diagnose Mr. Stanphill with major depressive episode, and failing to refer him to either a psychiatrist or hospital emergency room. Plaintiff also suggested that Ms. Ortberg altered the EAP records, violated various EAP policies and procedures, and that she did not perform her job responsibilities as specified in her job description. The Judge, Edward Prochaska, allowed multiple witnesses to make these insinuations even though there were no experts who causally connected the insinuated violations to Mr. Stanphill’s death.
The plaintiff retained three experts: a psychiatrist, Dr. David Bawden, a licensed clinical social worker, Daniel Potter, and economist, Stan Smith. Plaintiff sought damages in the amount of more than $4 million for the economic and societal losses of the decedent’s two children, and for the pain and suffering Mr. Stanphill allegedly suffered between the time of the EAP assessment and the time of his death. The defendants presented two experts at trial: Dr. Steven Hanus, a psychiatrist, and Terri Lee, LCSW. The defendants maintained that Ms. Ortberg’s assessment and referral were appropriate and compliant with the standard of care. That Mr. Stanphill was not suicidal at the time of the EAP assessment, and that Mr. Stanphill’s suicide was not foreseeable to Ms. Ortberg.
The jury signed a verdict form in favor of the plaintiff with an award of $1,495,151. However, at the request of the defendants, the Jury was given a Special Interrogatory that asked “Was it reasonably foreseeable to Lori Ortberg on September 30, 2005 that Keith Stanphill would commit suicide on or before October 9, 2005?” In Illinois, the plaintiff who files a cause of action for suicide bears the burden of proving that the suicide was reasonably foreseeable to the alleged tortfeasor. The Jury checked the “No” box on the Special Interrogatory, indicating that in the jury’s opinion, Mr. Stanphill’s suicide was not reasonably foreseeable to Ms. Ortberg. By law, the special interrogatory controlled the verdict, thereby mandating that judgment be entered in favor of the defendants and against the plaintiff.