Mandatory mediation rule helps avert wrongful death trial
By Steve Gonzalez

Madison County’s rule on mandatory mediation for medical malpractice cases recently helped settle a wrongful death case against an area nursing home.

Had mediation not worked, a jury trial against VIP Manor in Wood River would have begun on Oct. 14.

Terms of the settlement reached between the nursing home and Alinda Rust, who alleged her mother died as a result of inadequate care, were filed under seal and were not disclosed.

Implemented in September 2007, the mediation rule was the first of its kind in Illinois courts.

The Illinois Supreme Court approved the rule after all nine of the circuit judges in the Third Judicial Circuit voted in favor of it in June 2007, based on recommendations of the circuit’s Medical-Legal Committee.

Madison County’s rule is unique in that it not only calls for mandatory mediation of all medical malpractice cases, but also allows the parties to choose between judges or lawyers to mediate their cases.

The rule also sets restrictions on motions to dismiss involving certificates of merit.

According to Rust’s lawsuit filed on May 8, 2006 in Madison County Circuit Court, Viola Baehler suffered from dehydration, malnutrition and sepsis. Baehler was a resident from May 12, 2004 through Sept. 20, 2004, when she died.

Rust had also alleged her mother incurred medical expenses, and suffered from physical pain, mental anguish, impairment and disfigurement.

Represented by Craig Jensen and Michael Blotevogel of the Lakin Law Firm in Wood River, Rust sought damages in excess of $200,000, plus costs of the suit, attorneys’ fees and trial by jury.

Stephen Strum of St. Louis represented VIP. The nursing home denied all of Rust’s allegations.

Madison County Chief Judge Ann Callis assigned the case to mediation on Feb. 7, and assigned Associate Judge Ralph Mendelsohn as mediator.

Third Judicial Circuit Medical-Legal Committee members included Circuit Judges Dave Hylla, who served as the chairman, Circuit Judges Ann Callis and Charles Romani and Associate Judges Steve Stobbs and Tom Chapman.

The committee, which was formed in the spring of 2007 to address malpractice issues specific to Madison County, met with several members of the medical community.

It also met with both plaintiff and defense lawyers who specialize in medical malpractice law including Tom Keefe, John Hopkins, John Papa, Mark Levy, Mike Nester and Tom Falb.

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