Illinois jury awards $41 million to stroke victim

By Stephanie Srakocic | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published May 16, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • A malpractice suit alleged that Craig Pierce’s INR levels weren’t adequately monitored while taking Coumadin.

  • Pierce experienced a significant stroke that resulted in left-sided paralysis.

  • The $41 million verdict is believed to be the largest ever awarded to someone over the age of 70 in the state of Illinois.

Craig Pierce of Bushnell, IL, was admitted to St Francis Hospital, Peoria, on February 28, 2016, with pneumonia.[] He developed an acute kidney injury as a result of his pneumonia treatment and started short-term dialysis.

During his hospitalization, he was diagnosed with an arrhythmia and was placed on an anticoagulant to reduce the risk of stroke. Although Pierce was being continually monitored as part of his dialysis treatments, no action was taken when blood levels of his anticoagulant dropped. Four weeks after his hospital discharge, Pierce experienced a massive stroke. In May 2024, a jury ruled in favor of Pierce and awarded a $41 million verdict.[]

Pierce, a former lawyer, was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation and prescribed Coumadin by Barry Clemson, M.D., during his initial 2016 hospital stay. Records show that Dr. Clemson also recommended daily blood tests to monitor Peirce’s INR levels. Pierce remained in the hospital for two weeks. Continued dialysis treatments were arranged during his discharge planning, but continued blood testing was not. 

Pierce began receiving dialysis at a Fresenius Medical Care dialysis facility in Macomb, Illinois. The facility was under the medical direction of nephrologist Sudha Cherukuri, M.D. Dr. Cherukuri is an employee of RenalCare Associates, an Illinois-based healthcare provider.

Records show that nursing staff at Fresenius drew blood from Pierce three times as part of his dialysis treatment. Blood work included INR levels, and by April 6, 2016, Pierce’s level had dropped low enough to put him at high risk for a clot. According to the complaint, neither Dr. Cherukuri nor any other physician caring for Pierce adjusted his Coumadin dosage at this time in response to this dangerous INR drop. 

Pierce experienced a large right middle cerebral artery stroke on the morning of April 13, 2016. CT imaging taken later that day revealed a large clot in Pierce’s brain. Circulation was cut off to nearly half of Pierce’s brain. 

Pierce lost independent function as a result of the stroke. He is now paralyzed on his left side and experiences cognitive difficulties. He relies on his wife and adult grandchildren for 24-hour-per-day assistance with daily tasks. Prior to his stroke, Pierce was still practicing law and was an active member of his local school board. 

The lawsuit

In 2020, Pierce and his wife filed a malpractice suit against Dr. Cherukuri, Fresenius Medical Care of Illinois, and RenalCare Associates. The malpractice suit alleged negligence and gross mismanagement of Pierce’s care. In a 2022 deposition, Dr. Cherukuri stated that she believed Pierce’s Coumadin dose was being handled by providers at St. Francis Hospital and St. Francis’s parent organization, OSF HealthCare System. In response to this deposition, OSF HealthCare was added to the malpractice suit. 

Going to trial

A trial began on April 10, 2024. Jurors heard a month of testimony before reaching their verdict. During the trial, all defendants acknowledged the need to monitor Pierce’s Coumadin dosing. However, experts disagreed on who ultimately had the responsibility to monitor Pierce. Experts for OSF testified that the responsibility should have fallen to Fresenius. Experts speaking for Fresenius argued that since atrial fibrillation is a heart condition and Coumadin is a heart medication, the responsibility falls to OSF cardiology providers. 

On May 7, 2024, the jury ruled against all defendants. The total award of $41 million includes $35,149,942.38 to Craig Pierce for his injuries, and another $6,000,000 to his wife, Susan Pierce, for additional damages. Illinois law allows successful plaintiffs to collect pre-judgment interest on jury awards. Interest in this case will bring the award up to $44,863,583.75. The large sum is believed to be the largest malpractice verdict awarded to a plaintiff over the age of 70 in Illinois history. 

The rise of 8 figure jury awards

The large majority of medical malpractice cases never appear in court. Statistics show that 93% of cases are dropped or resolved before trial. Even when cases do make it to trial, courts often rule in favor of the defense. 

However, the rise of large jury awards to plaintiffs is still a trend worth keeping an eye on. Over the past several years, awards topping a million dollars have become more common, and plaintiffs have seen awards of over $10 million in locations across the country. For instance, a Baltimore woman who gave birth to a child with brain damage after a C-section in her 23rd week was awarded $34 million in 2023.[] In 2022, a Georgia man was awarded $75 million after emergency room doctors failed to diagnose his stroke.[] 

Robert E. White, Jr., President of TDC Group, says that each of these mega-awards increases the chances for additional large awards. 

“Over time, unusually large verdicts can become the new usual, because each large verdict pushes upward on plaintiffs’ damages from other tried cases,” he says. White goes on to say that these large awards can also affect numbers during the settlement process.  

“It also pushes on negotiations for medical malpractice settlements because at the start of the settlement process, when a plaintiff’s attorney is drafting a demand letter, that attorney needs to know the value of that case in their local legal venue.”

Between 2010 and 2019, the average from the top 100 jury awards rose by nearly half.[] 

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