As noted in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin on March 27, partners Mathew Siporin and Richard Pullano obtained an Illinois-record $8.4 million settlement for catastrophic hand injuries suffered by Polish immigrant and tile contractor Marek Furtek, who suffered extreme frostbite after checking himself into an alcohol treatment facility where he was thoroughly neglected on a number of fronts.
After checking into the facility, he was severely undermedicated, causing him to experience withdrawal to the point of delirium. While in this state of delirium, Mr. Furtek was able to wander outside the facility in the middle of the night during the “polar vortex,” without a hat, coat or gloves, because security staff did not adequately monitor the front door.
As a result, Mr. Furtek lost the tips of all of his fingers, his pinkies needed to be amputated, and he was left with damaged nerves, tissues and blood vessels, causing contractures, chronic neuropathic pain and phantom pain. While friends in the tile industry have been hiring him as much as possible, the speed and quality of his work has suffered, and he is likely to be largely unemployable in the near future. In addition, he needs assistance with simple tasks like buttoning shirts, cutting food, and opening jars.
The settlement will provide Mr. Furtek the resources to cover these needs and the cost of medical care that will help reduce his pain. “What they did to this man was unconscionable and inhumane,” Siporin said. “This was their patient. He was missing, they knew he was missing, and they literally left him out in the cold.”
Mr. Furtek, who speaks limited English, had been a severe alcoholic, to the point of drinking at least one bottle of whisky per day, and even waking up and drinking more in the middle of the night to be able to sleep. Alcohol withdrawal is deadly because your brain develops a chemical dependency that results in neurons firing rapidly when alcohol is depleting from one’s body.
“It is like your brain is on fire,” Siporin explained. “If the fire is allowed to rage out of control, the consequences can be fatal, as the patient can develop delirium and seizures. The way to put the fire out is through drinking more alcohol or seeking inpatient treatment and properly administering benzodiazepines, which allows the patient to withdrawal safely.” This is what Mr. Furtek eventually did, seeking professional help for a life-threatening disease.
Three days after he arrived at the facility, however, caregivers had neglected to provide multiple doses of the lifesaving neuro-depressant called Librium. The facility also failed to deploy Polish interpreters while treating Mr. Furtek for the entirety of inpatient stay at the facility. As a result, Mr. Furtek was unable to understand what he was being asked when the nurses would deliver a regular survey administered to alcohol withdrawal patients to measure the severity of their withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, headaches, and anxiety.
As a result, the fire in Mr. Furtek’s brain raged out of control, his withdrawal symptoms worsened, he became delirious, and—as security video obtained by Pullano & Siporin showed—he started hallucinating and wandering around the facility for hours. During this time, nobody asked him if he was alright and nobody searched for an interpreter to help understand what he was experiencing.
Then, at 1 a.m., Mr. Furtek went missing, out into the negative-37-degree wind chills with no winter-wear. Because the door to the facility locked from the outside, he couldn’t have gotten back in if he’d wanted to. Then, 90 minutes later, Mr. Furtek was caught on a security camera outside a nearby McDonald’s, which showed him on his hands and knees, pants falling down, curled up over a grate in the sidewalk attempting to find some warmth. Nobody went to look for him, and nobody called 9-1-1. His wife received a call from Stroger Hospital at 1 p.m. the next day stating: “Your husband is here at the ICU.”
The nursing staff at the facility pointed fingers back and forth as to why Mr. Furtek’s medication schedule got so fouled up. He was supposed to receive three 25-milligram doses during the day and a 100-milligram dose before bedtime. “We asked the nurses, ‘Why weren’t you giving him the medicine?’ ” Siporin said. “They didn’t even know the schedule.” To make matters worse, there was no one at the facility supervising the nursing care due to apparent confusion over who was in charge. The end result was that Mr. Furtek failed to receive significant quantities of medicine that he needed to safely withdrawal from alcohol.
The security guards didn’t have any better answers. Our investigation revealed there was supposed to be a guard monitoring the door 24 hours a day. If the guard needed to go to the bathroom, he was required to notify another guard on patrol so there would be no interruption in the door security. To confirm this occurred, detailed logs were required to be maintained.
“There was a complete system breakdown at this inpatient facility,” Pullano said. “The security guard chose to leave his post, chose not to tell anyone, and chose not to generate any logs.” When asked why he did not generate logs, the guard responded, “I never do the logs because they are a waste of time.” When Pullano asked, “Didn’t your supervisor reprimand you, or say something to you about your lack of logs?”, he responded, “They told me, but I still didn’t do them, and there were no repercussions.”
Until, that is, Marek Furtek wandered out into the cold and suffered catastrophic, life-devastating injuries. The insurance company for the alcohol treatment facility refused to settle after two mediations but ultimately changed their position just as the parties were sent out for trial.
“This record settlement is important for several reasons,” Pullano said. “It provides Marek the financial ability to get the medical care he needs to reduce his pain and improve the quality of his life. It also protects him in the future. when he is unable to work because of his hand injuries. And, it will compel this inpatient medical facility to train its staff on safety protocols and actually enforce the rules. Patients’ lives depend on it.”