Professional Malpractice and Catastrophic Injury; Punitive Damages

David A. Axelrod & Associates won one of the most significant professional malpractice verdicts in Illinois judicial history, winning a $31.35 million dollar verdict against Walgreen Company for pharmacy malpractice. The award included $25 million in punitive damages, as well as more than $6.35 million in compensatory damages.

The David A. Axelrod & Associates team spent months working around the clock to prepare the case on behalf of a 79 year-old man who suffered a stroke and acute renal failure leading to kidney dialysis before dying. The Plaintiff’s suffering was caused by a prescription which was negligently filled by a Walgreen pharmacy manager. The Plaintiff had called Walgreens to refill his medication for gout, but the pharmacist erroneously gave the Plaintiff a diabetes drug. The negligently misfilled prescription drastically lowered the Plaintiff’s blood sugar levels, leading to kidney failure and brain injury. The Plaintiff endured 22 months of horrible suffering before eventually dying.

During its representation of the Plaintiff, the Axelrod team discovered that Walgreens had failed to comply with Federal and State statutes requiring that all prescription narcotics be tracked and accounted for. As a result, the pharmacist who misfilled the Plaintiff’s prescription had spent eight years stealing and ingesting narcotic controlled substances while working for Walgreens. Walgreens did not discover the illegal drug use until almost one year after the prescription error occurred. When he was finally caught, the pharmacist admitted that he had stolen and ingested more than 86,000 narcotic painkiller pills from the Walgreens pharmacy that he managed.

Before the error by Walgreens, the Plaintiff had been a healthy, self-sufficient individual.  David A. Axelrod & Associates’ extensive trial preparation included interviews with Kulisek’s friends and family in order to draw a portrait for the jury of the Plaintiff’s active life, as well as in-depth medical research and interviews with his doctors.  The team meticulously learned about medical areas such as nephrology, hypoglycemia, hypotension, and rhabdomyolysis, and called upon experts for their analysis of the manner in which the medication given to the Plaintiff ruined his life, and ultimately led to his death.

The research and preparation that David A. Axelrod & Associates undertook on behalf of the Plaintiff and those who loved him paid off in many ways: It established the illegal conduct of Walgreens and its pharmacist, made it less likely that Walgreens or any other pharmacy would harm other customers through similar conduct in the future, honored the Plaintiff’s memory, and compensated those who were closest to him for their loss.

Commenting on the jury’s verdict in the Chicago Sun-Times, the forewoman said, “the only way we could hope to change the system in the future was to hurt them financially.” Another jury member said, “I didn’t expect that out of Walgreens. We wanted to send them a strong message because it could happen to any one of us.”

Walgreen appealed both the punitive and compensatory verdicts. On March 31, 2009, the Appellate Court issued an opinion reversing the $25 million punitive damages award and affirming the $6.35 million compensatory verdict. In doing so, the Appellate Court found that:

“[t]here was ample evidence in this case of the grievous and ultimately deadly condition into which [the Plaintiff] was placed through the negligence and misconduct of Walgreen and its pharmacist, Wilmes.”

Nonetheless, the Court held that “punitive damages could not be awarded in this case, where the injured party died during pretrial proceedings.” The Appellate Court reasoned however, that:

“[w]here we are confronted with a man whose entire life was put into a downward spiral, which likely resulted in his decision to cease dialysis treatment, ultimately leading to his death, it borders on futility to compare the amounts awarded to other victims or their representatives in unrelated cases.”

Thus, the Court found “no basis for altering the amount of compensatory damages awarded in this case” and stated that “[t]he amount awarded by the jury matched what the plaintiff requested of it.”

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If you are in need of experienced, dedicated, and tenacious trial representation, call David A. Axelrod & Associates today at 312-782-4600 for your free consultation.

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