Cook County and Illinois Jury Verdict Reporter
Shirley Larson, 82 years-old, suffered from long-standing glaucoma—a condition in which increased intra-ocular pressure causes vision loss by causing damage to the optic nerve. Ms. Larson sought treatment of her glaucoma from the Defendant, Dr. Miller, for more than 13 years. In addition to glaucoma, Ms. Larson also suffered from corneal edema. In March 2003, Dr. Miller recommended a new glaucoma procedure to Ms. Larson, endoscopic cyclophotocoagulation (ECP), in which incisions are made in the eye and a laser is used to reduce the amount of fluid produced by the eye. Dr. Miller had never before performed an ECP surgery and his training on the procedure consisted of a one-day course taught by the device manufacturer’s representatives, neither of whom were physicians. The ECP surgery was performed on Ms. Larson by Dr. Miller on May 28, 2003 at the Rockford Ambulatory Surgery Center. During the procedure, Dr. Miller placed three incisions in the eye, although the procedure is typically performed with no more than two incisions. After the third incision was made, Dr. Miller noticed blood in the back of the eye. Incisions in the eye can cause a sudden decrease in pressure resulting in a tearing of the vessels feeding the retina in the subchoroidal space. This bleeding then causes the retina to detach, resulting in blindness. Prior to the procedure, Ms. Larson’s vision in her left eye was 20/30. Following the surgery, she had no vision or light perception in her left eye. Her left eye became phthisic—a sometimes painful condition in which the eye shrivels over time due to lack of intraocular pressure and becomes opaque white. Three years after the procedure, Ms. Larson was fitted for a prosthetic eye. Ms. Larson’s current ophthalmologist, Dr. Edward Yavitz, testified that her glaucoma in her right eye remains stable and her corneal edema has completely abated. Plaintiff’s expert, Dr. Savitt, testified that Dr. Miller was negligent in prescribing improper medications and performing an unnecessary ECP procedure when Ms. Larson’s glaucoma was stable and she was at significant risk of hemorrhage during surgery. Both the Defendant, Dr. Miller, and his expert, Dr. Samuelson, admitted that the combination of medications prescribed by Dr. Miller was outside of the standard of care. Despite her 20/30 vision in her left eye, Dr. Miller opined that Ms. Larson needed a corneal transplant because her corneal edema was an indication that her cornea was going bad. Dr. Savitt testified that Ms. Larson’s corneal edema was caused by the improper combination of medications prescribed by Dr. Miller and that there was no indication to perform a high risk procedure on a patient whose glaucoma was not worsening. The Winnebago County jury awarded Ms. Larson $1.75 million dollars.