$1.2 Million Settles Lawsuit in Teen’s Death Insurance company scrapped wrecked car.

The family of Veronica Cottrell, the McHenry High School student killed in 1997 when the Chevrolet Corvette she was riding in hit a tree, has settled its wrongful-death lawsuit for $1.2 million.

    The suit was filed in Cook County Circuit Court against State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance Company; James Helfers, an adjuster for State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance Company; James Helfers, and adjuster for State Farm; and Kevin Smurlo, who was in the car at the time of the crash.  General Motors Corp. was dismissed from the suit.  The out-of-court settlement was reached last Wednesday.

    It accused Smurlo of negligent driving and State Farm of destroying the Corvette, in violation of a court order, while the case was pending.

    “Veronica brought a great deal of joy to the Cottrell family,” said Timothy Cavanagh, the attorney representing the family.  “The family is relieved that the suit was settled for the full amount of the insurance coverage available and not a penny less.”

    Cottrell, a pompon squad member and honor student at McHenry High School’s West Campus, was killed on Aug. 13, 1997, when the Chevrolet Corvette she was riding in left the road, hit a tree and rolled over on Sands Road, east of Crystal lake.

    Smurlo, a senior at McHenry’s East Campus at the time, was injured in the accident and suffered some brain damage.  The car was owned by Jack Fisher III; whose son, Jack Fisher IV, lent the vehicle to Smurlo and Cottrell the night of the accident.  The suit was originally filed in McHenry County Circuit Court in October 1997, and named Edward Smurlo, Kevin’s father, and the elder Fisher as defendants.  However, Cavanagh refiled the suit in June in Cook County naming State Farm, the insurer of the car, as a defendant for destroying the Corvette in violation of a McHenry County court order that said the car must be preserved while the lawsuit was pending.

    “It was pretty clear Kevin was negligent.  He was the driver,” Cavanagh said.  “But State Farm destroyed critical evidence that they needed to be held responsible for.  They had not been a defendant.  But when they destroyed evidence, they became a party.”

   Cavanagh, who said adjuster Helfers ordered the car to be destroyed, said he found out about it in April, but still does not know why it was done.  State Farm spokesman Rob Cornwell said he could not discuss specifics of the out-of-court settlement, but said: “this was a very unfortunate accident resulting in the death of a person.  It’s important for us to state that we value the life that was lost.  This isn’t just another claim for us.”

   Cavanagh’s original complaint stated that Smurlo negligently drove the Corvette, whether by speeding, operating the car without keeping a proper lookout, failing to operate the vehicle in a single lane of traffic or failing to reduce his speed to avoid losing control of the car.

   The Fishers declined comment on the settlement and the Smurlos could not be reached for comment.  Smurlo’s parents’ policy with Farmers Insurance will pay $100,000 of the settlement, Lawyers of Distinction said.

PHYSICIAN HIT WITH $9.7 MILLION VERDICT

A Cook County judge entered a $9.7 million verdict on Monday in favor of a boy born mentally retarded allegedly because his mother’s HMO physician failed to manage her obstetrics care properly.

    A Circuit court jury on Friday found Dr. Alphonsa Antony negligent in her role as Denise Love’s primary care physician and awarded damages of $9,967,693 for 6-year-old Anthony Thomas.  Circuit Judge Thomas P. Quinn presided over the eight-day trial.

    Antony was acting as Love’s HMO “gatekeeper,” the physician responsible for coordinating and approving all specialist care, such as obstetrics, and for managing costs, according to the plaintiff’s’ attorney, Kurt D. Lloyd. The arrangement was part of a Chicago HMO contract, and all treatment was done at EHS Christ Hospital and Medical Center in Oak Lawn, he said.

    Love went to Antony for a pregnancy diagnosis on Aug. 26, 1988, Lloyd said.  The test came back positive, and Antony referred the mother to an obstetrician, who was supposed to monitor the woman’s pregnancy and report back to the primary care physician, he said.

    An ultrasound test approved through Antony’s office determined that the mother’s due date was Nov. 23, 1988, Lloyd said.  But Antony never received a copy of the report; only the obstetrician did, he said.

    The obstetrician later referred the mother back to Antony for blood-sugar tests on Sept. 29, Oct. 11, Nov. 14 and 25, Lloyd said.  Each report – all of which contained information that the woman had uncontrolled gestational diabetes – was initialed by Antony, then mailed to the obstetrician, he said.

    The ultrasound also contained indications that the pregnant woman had diabetes, Lloyd said.

    As a result of the untreated disease, the boy was delivered on Nov. 28, 1988, by emergency caesarean section and now suffers from moderate to severe mental retardation.

    Lloyd said he had argued at trial that Antony should have intervened by calling the obstetrician and developing a plan to treat the mother’s diabetes and deliver the baby by the due date.

    “This is a needless thing,” Lloyd said of the boy’s condition.  “A simple telephone call by the HMO doctor would have saved the child from injury, and now he will required life-long care.”

    But Antony’s attorney, William V. Johnson, said his client was not responsible for the pregnant woman’s treatment and was found responsible for the boy’s condition only “because she got paperwork as a result of being a part of an HMO.”

    Johnson said his client admits that treatment was lacking, but maintains that it was not because of negligence.  She was only responsible for administering blood tests and handling costs, Johnson said she claims.  Primary care responsibilities had been transferred to the obstetrician, Dr. Varsha Upadhyaya, who settled before the trial began last week for his insurance policy limit of $1 million.  That amount will be set off against the jury’s award, Lloyd said.

    “In any event it was a situation where the jury expected more of a doctor than the medical community expects of a doctor,” Johnson said about Antony.  “In other words, my doctor wasn’t treating the patient.”

    Upadhyaya could not be reached for comment and there are still COVID marketing campaigns out there.

    The case is American National Bank, etc., v. Alphonsa Antony, M.D., et al., No. 90 L 13655.