A new lawsuit alleges medical personnel mishandled testing of a dying Quincy veterans’ home resident last fall, resulting in him not being diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease until just hours before his death.
This is the second lawsuit from the family of Valdemar “Roy” Dehn, an 88-year-old Korean War veteran and ex-Chicago Tribune employee who died from Legionnaires’ last October. The first lawsuit, filed last week, was focused solely against the state of Illinois in the state’s obscure Court of Claims, where families suing the state are limited in their damages.
The Dehns are the 12th family to sue the state for neglect related to the death of a loved one at the Quincy veterans’ home due to Legionnaires’ disease.
But the Dehn family is the first to try a two-pronged legal strategy by also suing Blessing Hospital and Zorian Trusewych, the medical director of the veterans’ home, over the outbreaks.
The lawsuit alleges staff at Blessing Hospital ordered Dehn be tested for Legionnaires’ disease on Oct. 8, 2017, but the test wasn’t carried out. Three days later, another doctor questioned why the test had not been completed and ordered it be done a second time, according to the lawsuit. The test result came back positive for Legionnaires’ the next day, about eight hours before Dehn died, according to the lawsuit.
The court filing alleges Trusevych also failed to test Dehn, even in the months leading up to the 2017 outbreak as other residents tested positive for Legionnaires’.
A Legionnaires’ outbreak killed 12 residents and sickened dozens more in 2015. A second outbreak struck the home in 2016.
Under existing Illinois law, the maximum amount of damages Dehn’s estate could receive from suing the state is $100,000, an award that is the lowest in the country.
“Right now, you’re limited to $100,000, which is clearly a horribly inadequate recovery for the death of anybody,” said Steven Jambois, the Chicago attorney representing the Dehn family.
But after a WBEZ investigation into the continuing outbreaks, the Illinois House and Senate last spring voted to lift that cap to $2 million and make it retroactive to cover all of the pending lawsuits against the state filed by families who lost loved ones to Legionnaires’ at the Quincy home.
Rauner has not said whether he’ll sign the measure into law. Vetoing the bill could portray Rauner, who’s seeking reelection, as unsympathetic to the families who lost loved ones at the home. Rauner’s Democratic opponent, J.B. Pritzker, has accused Rauner of “fatal mismanagement” and has said families like Dehns are due compensation from the state.
In earlier Legionnaires’ lawsuits, the state has not acknowledged any negligence in the Quincy veterans’ home outbreaks.
But the Dehn family’s lawsuit against Blessing Hospital and the veteran’s home’s medical director could eventually bring the issue in front of an Adams County jury, potentially resulting in a much larger reward than the lawsuit against the state.
“I certainly think that 12 members of any community, much less that community, is going to be outraged at what’s happened to all these veterans,” Jambois said.
A spokesman for Blessing Hospital did not immediately respond to a request to comment.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office, who is representing Trusewych in the lawsuit said, “We are reviewing the complaint.”
Dehn, who lived in suburban Lisle before moving to the veterans’ home, was a U.S. Army veteran who served between 1948 and 1952 and was involved in ground combat during the Korean War. Much of his time after the war involved working in the sales department at the Chicago Tribune, where he was employed for 26 years.
Dehn got to retire at an early age but eventually grew bored and lonely. He thought moving to the Quincy home made sense, in part, as a way to connect socially, his son, Matt, told WBEZ.
He said his father experienced kidney difficulties before succumbing to Legionnaires’ but noted he remained mentally sharp until his death.