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At Least We Have a Way to Seek Justice

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune caused concern amongst our Chicago personal injury attorneys; the story exposed the frightening statistic that the Illinois Department of Public Health fails to investigate 85% of the complaints against hospitals across the state, even when reports assert violations such as patient abuse.

Federal law requires that serious allegations against hospitals be investigated within 48 hours, but according to the news article from the Chicago Tribune, of 560 hospital complaints received last year, the Illinois Department of Public Health failed to investigate a significant majority. Included amongst the ignored complaints were also accusations of serious bodily harm, patient deaths, and inadequate infection control.

Even worse, Illinois regulators listed the reason for the absence of inquiry into these matters as a lack of state funding to conduct suitable investigations. A spokesperson for the Public Health Department said that the Department “does not have the funding needed to investigate complaints, to conduct routine hospital surveys and ensure the health and safety of patients.” Even though almost $498,000 of government funding was spent on hospital evaluations last year, the funding isn’t enough to allow investigators to probe into every complaint. Further, lobbyists on behalf of the hospital industry have fought to keep state spending on investigations down, which prevents Illinois from having the ability to examine even hospitals with numerous complaints in arrears against them.

Complaints against hospitals are vital to regulating the industry. When officials are made aware of which hospitals have which problems, measures can be taken to avoid and correct the potential dangers to the patients. Additionally, when violations are found after investigations into complaints, the state can order hospitals to make changes, which ensures that things will improve, simply as a result of fundamental government control.

In response to this article, Jerry A. Latherow, president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association wrote a Letter to the Editor, published in the Chicago Tribune, in response to the Tribune‘s article. In his editorial, Latherow states, “An overwhelming number of clients in medical malpractice cases tell us ‘we want to make sure this doesn’t happen to someone else.’ Your article demonstrates that the Illinois Department of Public Health, whether it be due to inadequate funding, untrained staffing, or whatever other reason, is failing to make sure these negligent events do not ‘happen to someone else.'”

In the absence of government regulation, then, it appears that the field of Illinois personal injury law provides the remedy: not only are victims and their families afforded the opportunity to seek justice against those who harmed them, and compensation for the injuries they sustained, but Illinois personal injury lawsuits – especially those in which punitive damages are awarded – send a message to healthcare providers, teaching them to be more careful in their future practices.

Obviously it’s best when injuries can be avoided. If it is at all possible for potential sources of harm to be identified before wrongdoing occurs, this should be our foremost priority. However, when the economy is in a state of disarray and government funding comes up short in the search for answers, at least we can take solace in the fact that when the worst-case scenario becomes a reality, there is a way to achieve justice.