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The Family of Mt. Prospect Woman Receives $1 Million Medical Negligence Settlement

06.11.1998

The family of a Mt. Prospect woman who died on Dec.11, 1991, will receive $1 million as a result of a medical negligence lawsuit. Dianne Elster, age 40, died as a result of an undiagnosed condition known as pulmonary embolism. The law firm of Corboy & Demetrio in Chicago filed a wrongful death action in the Circuit Court of Cook County on behalf of the family of Mrs. Elster in 1992.

On Dec. 9, 1991, Mrs. Elster was seen by the defendant physician, Dr. Allan Sutow, at his office in Lincolnwood. Mrs. Elster complained of pain beginning in her right calf and extending up the back of the leg. She also complained of having shortness of breath while walking to her car on the previous day. Mrs. Elster was at significant risk for the development of pulmonary embolism. Dr. Sutow, however, made a diagnosis of hip bursitis. This is a non-fatal condition as compared to the risk for pulmonary embolism.

Mrs. Elster was first seen by Dr. Sutow in 1978 at the time of the birth of her first child. During recovery, she was diagnosed with pulmonary embolism. This condition involves the break-off of clot material from the deep venous system of the legs which travels in the venous system through the heart and then clots the blood vessels of the lungs. If the clot material builds up sufficiently, it can cause death. Patients who are known to be obese have a significantly increased risk for the development of deep venous thrombosis, blood clot, within the deep veins of the legs. Throughout the care that Dr. Sutow provided for Mrs. Elster, she was diagnosed as being obese.

From 1978 to 1981, Mrs. Elster had been diagnosed with pulmonary embolism on one occasion, two occasions of deep venous thrombosis, and two occasions of superficial phlebitis. On each occasion, she was treated with anti-coagulants to prevent the development of pulmonary emboli.

On Dec. 9, 1991, the defendant physician ignored the combination of clinical evidence, prior history, and her predisposing factor for pulmonary embolism.

The firm stated:

This was a patient who had a predisposing factor for the development of deep venous thrombosis. This factor was her obesity. Second, the greatest risk factor for the development of either deep venous thrombosis or a pulmonary embolism is a prior occurrence of deep venous thrombosis or pulmonary embolism. Mrs. Elster had both historical events. Third, the clinical evidence of the development of deep venous thrombosis is severe pain in a lower extremity extending up the leg. She also brought that complaint to Dr. Sutow. Tragically, Dr. Sutow made a diagnosis of a non-lethal condition of bursitis, rather than considering the potential for a fatal condition such as pulmonary embolism.

At the office visit of Dec. 9, 1991, Dr. Sutow prescribed Feldene, an anti-inflammatory drug for the hip bursitis. Two days later, Mrs. Elster's complaints became much more severe. Her pain in the leg had increased and chest pain and shortness of breath were developing rapidly. Her daughter, Robyn, contacted her father, Kenneth Elster, and the paramedics. When the paramedics arrived at the home, Mrs. Elster was extremely short of breath, sweating, and anxious. These are the clinical signs of when a pulmonary embolism is reaching a critical mass. On the way to the ambulance, she suffered a respiratory arrest resulting in her death.

Dianne Elster is survived by her husband, Ken Elster, and her two children, Richard, age 19, and Robyn, age 18.

Judge Edward Burr, Law Division of the Circuit Court of Cook County, entered a settlement order in the case this week. Dr. Sutow, via his insurance company, will pay the family $1 million.

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