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CalAttorney2
CalAttorney2, Attorney
Category: Legal
Satisfied Customers: 10244
Experience:  Civil litigation attorney for individuals and businesses.
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My mother's purse was stolen or was lost by ER staff at the

Customer Question

My mother's purse was stolen or was lost by ER staff at the hospital she was taken to on the night of her death in Nov. 2013. No lawyer I've consulted with thinks any liability claim for her missing IDs and thousands in cancer meds would hold up in court. The scenario seems like a set up specifically to steal IDs and meds, before cash and anything else, because of their value on black markets around the World. Would the lawyers responding tonight agree with the opinions of the lawyers I've consulted? Thanks.
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Legal
Expert:  CalAttorney2 replied 2 years ago.

Dear Customer,

I am very sorry to learn of your mother's passing.

I am not sure precisely what these other attorneys told you. I will tell you that a hospital is liable for the actions of their employees, so if you can prove that they did in fact take or misplace your mother's belongings, then they are responsible to compensate you (her estate to be more precise) for the loss.

I can also tell you that this kind of claim has some fairly significant practical difficulties if you wish to pursue it. (1) you must hire a lawyer, you cannot prosecute a claim on behalf of your mother's estate "pro per" (without a lawyer). (2) you must prove the precise items or belongings that your mother had with her at the time that she went to the hospital (transfers to the ER, especially by ambulance, are often busy and confusing times, you must be able to provide admissible evidence to support the precise items that were lost, and the value of each). (3) you must also provide admissible evidence that the hospital (through their staff or employees) is responsible for the loss - you do not have to meet the criminal "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard, but you still must prove to a "preponderance of the evidence" that the hospital lost or stole your mother's belongings.

All of this is to say that while the hospital is responsible for items stolen by the hospital are the hospital's liability. However, you must prove each element to the claim - and as your mother is deceased and you are suing on behalf of her estate, you must hire a lawyer. This makes things more difficult.

If you have not done so already, do file a formal complaint with the hospital - most hospitals do work very proactively to deal with these matters (it is poor customer service to permit it to continue, healthcare works on a basis of trust between patients and providers and if there is a history of theft or other misconduct it destroys the hospital's reputation and efficacy).

Customer: replied 2 years ago.
The purse was given to Chicago Fire Dept. EMT's before they took her to the ER. The CFD District Chief verified to a Chicago Police Detective assigned to this case that the EMTs gave the purse to hospital staff. Hospital administrators gave me ludicrous responses about why they refused to talk to nurses, security, et al on the job that night. I have a Chicago Police detectives report. The problem for the lawyers I've talked to is that they could not determine what the actual losses were, which I think are the thousands in experimental oral chemo drugs, which I planned on returning to her oncologist for good use on another patient-perhaps one whose insurance would not cover risky drugs that aren't effective for many-and the cost of monitoring her estate for fraudulent purposes.
Expert:  CalAttorney2 replied 2 years ago.

Remember, I never said you didn't have a case. I did try to outline some of the considerations that you need to review prior to hiring a lawyer.

A lawyer is also going to discuss with you the cost/benefit analysis of pursuing litigation (how much does it cost to litigate a case vs. how much will you actually recover in a successful settlement or judgment). So it is important to pay careful attention to exactly what the attorney is discussing with you when you are talking about why they are not taking your case, or if they raise an objection to your claim.

Also, please understand, if you go to civil litigation, you are not going to be able to introduce a police report into evidence (that is hearsay), similarly, unless the Chicago Fire Chief actually was on scene, his testimony is also going to be precluded (unless he is testifying about general standards of practice for his department). The EMTs or Paramedics that transported your mother will be permitted to testify (that is going to be critical testimony), but in order to build your civil case you are going to have to start with evidence and testimony, you cannot use compiled reports, etc. (other than for purposes of helping an attorney evaluate your claim).

Chicago PD can refer your case to the prosecutor's office for prosecution, but that is something that law enforcement needs to deal with. You can continue to follow up with them (criminal prosecution is of course different from civil claims and will generally not result in direct compensation for your loss).

Customer: replied 2 years ago.
What kind of civil litigator should I look for? One neighborhood attorney told me he couldn't find precedent for this case. Wouldn't a similar case be good enough? Damages include costs of monitoring my mother's estate for any fraudulent claims, both by professional credit agencies and by a lawyer checking with the county for claims against her properties; meds that are her property and therefore the property of her estate; and for the 40 hours of work on my behalf dedicated to chasing down her missing purse and to following up the theft or loss with authorities. Anything I should ask for in an attorney when I call the Chicago Bar Assn.? Will a good litigator take the case without requiring payment incommensurate with the loss? Better Call Saul? Suggestions appreciated before I get on the merry-go-round of futility again. By the way, I have paid a lawyer to send the hospital a bill for the costs of the loss. We wait for a response a year after he sent it.
Expert:  CalAttorney2 replied 2 years ago.

You would want a civil litigation attorney for the case.

I'm not sure what kind of precedent the attorney is looking for (again, I am not privy to these conversations so I cannot tell you what they were talking about or what they were concerned about), this is a relatively simple legal claim, the problem is a series of very practical issues that arise making it not very cost effective (which I discussed in my initial post).

You can ask attorneys about taking the case on a reduced fee basis, but this really isn't the kind of case that most attorneys are able to take on a reduced fee basis (most law firms do not run at a very high profit margin and pro bono and reduced fee work usually is reserved for cases where you are trying to either make a political point (cases against government entities, etc.) or for individuals that have suffered some sort of significant personal injury (you also see a lot of this in criminal law with indigent defendants).

But you can certainly ask.

You can be compensated for the lost items in the purse, possibly compensated for the credit monitoring/lawsuit check, but the time that you expended is not compensible. If you do prove that this was intentional (conversion - the civil equivalent of theft), then you can also get "punitive" damages, but don't file suit counting on those.

You can find local attorneys using the State and local Bar Association directories, or private directories such as www.AVVO.com; www.FindLaw.com; or www.Martindale.com (I personally find www.AVVO.com to be the most user friendly).

Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Maybe I have to find a guy with an office in the back of a nail salon...If the hospital doesn't cough up for the submitted bill or at least make some noises about negotiating a deal in the next month or two, I'll be hitting the pavement again. What a bunch of pricks these hospital administrators are-no apology, no explanation offered, no expression of sympathy after my mother's death, in the hospital system in which she was treated for cancer for nearly three years. Makes my blood boil. Ok William, thanks for your motivation and advice.
Expert:  CalAttorney2 replied 2 years ago.

You can also try using a mediator. Contact the Bar Association and ask for referrals. Sometimes a third party neutral is useful in reaching a "mutually agreeable resolution" when the two parties are at an impasse.

A mediator won't be representing your interests, but they can help to facilitate a more reasonable discussion.