In 2020 John Dornik resolved six cases for seven figures each. The following year, not so much. “It wasn’t as good. It was decent,” he said. Cases don’t resolve without a pending trial, he said, and scheduling varies from court to court.
Dornik’s practice includes medical malpractice and other personal injury cases.
Most substantial personal injury settlements nowadays are confidential. Some of Dornik’s cases include a death of a patron killed after an illegal liquor sale, and a child who sustained severe electrical burn injuries in a science class.
Last year Dornik resolved a case involving a shooting at a Dollar Store in Burnsville in which an argument broke out between an employee and a customer, and the customer shot two people. One died and the other is paraplegic. The District Court certified to the Court of Appeals the question of whether the employee’s own conduct created a duty of the store to warn or protect the customer, but the case was resolved and dismissed before getting to the Court of Appeals, Dornik said.
He and the other lawyers in his Minneapolis firm, Siegel Brill, review about 50 medical malpractice cases a week and pursue about one in 100 cases, Dornik said. The main requirements – breach of a duty of care and the causal link to the injury to the patient — are big hurdles to jump, he said. Proving causation may be difficult because plaintiffs were already sick or injured before the alleged error.
The causation may be more apparent in cases of failure to diagnose that result in delayed treatment, Dornik said. In one such case, a woman diagnosed with cervical cancer was told biopsies of her lymph nodes were negative. They weren’t, and she died of cancer at the age of 41, leaving a spouse and children.
Another malpractice case was failure to diagnose Kawasaki disease in a young child. It is a disease of unknown origin that causes blood vessels to become inflamed, resulting in heart disease. The child will require a transplant, and other complications from the disease may follow. Since the child is only 2 years old, the damages will be substantial, Dornik said.
Another case involved a breathing tube inserted into the esophagus instead of the trachea, causing the death of the patient from oxygen deprivation.
With some exceptions, the elements of a successful malpractice claim often favor the defense, Dornik said. “Going in, the doctors have the advantage,” he said. The typical jury is skeptical of plaintiffs and favors doctors, he said.
It remains to be seen whether the country’s pandemic experience and the recognition of the heroic contributions of the health care profession will have an impact on juries, Dornik said. So far he has not seen any “COVID-19 backlash” against plaintiffs in court. His practice is to acknowledge to the jury at the outset that health care practitioners may be great most of the time but occasionally breach their standard of care, even considering the pandemic.
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