Edward to pay nurse just $33,000

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    Edward to pay nurse just $33,000
    By Christy Gutowski Daily Herald Legal Affairs Writer
    Posted Saturday, May 29, 2004

    A fired Edward Hospital nurse who filed a whistleblower lawsuit has settled out of court for $33,000, three weeks after a mistrial was declared.

    Reem Azhari had sought up to $1.82 million from the Naperville hospital. A judge declared the mistrial, though, after a deadlocked jury failed to reach a verdict despite 18 hours of debate.

    Both sides agreed to the settlement this week, thus canceling a second trial in September. Although hospital officials portray it as a victory, lawyers for the 37-year-old Orland Park woman said she simply didn't want to endure another emotional trial.

    "She went through a horrible ordeal at the hospital," said George Ellison, the nurse's attorney. "She didn't want to relive it again during a second trial. It was just too much for her to endure."

    Azhari argued her supervisor fired her in March 2000 - despite excellent performance reviews - because of health and safety violations she had uncovered.

    During the two-week trial, DuPage Associate Judge Terence Sheen tossed out the most serious allegation, Medicare fraud, citing a lack of evidence. The lawsuit also erroneously alleged a doctor's negligence led to the death of a cancer patient who had been terminally ill.

    Polling the jury after the deadlock, Edward attorney David Meyer said nine of the 12 members told him they strongly sided with the hospital, while two others favored awarding a small amount. One hold-out juror failed to make a decision.

    Brian Davis, a hospital spokesman, said they agreed to the $33,000 settlement because it is much cheaper than the expense of a second trial. They, too, did not want to put the medical staff through another trial.

    "We clearly proved her allegations to be baseless and flat-out wrong," Davis said. "It's time to move on."

    The hospital had recruited Azhari in October 1996 as a case manager/clinical specialist whose job included watchdog duties. She missed 20 weeks of work from August 1999 to February 2000 because of a car accident and, later, maternity leave.

    Her position was eliminated one month after she returned. During the trial, Meyer told jurors most of the nurse's duties had been shifted to other employees.

    In the lawsuit, Azhari accused the hospital of improperly allowing uncertified medical and college students to attend and participate in operating room procedures. Hospital officials argued the practice isn't uncommon.

    The nurse also complained one doctor falsified medical records, committing Medicare fraud. The judge tossed out that allegation. Hospital officials did, though, tighten regulations for such documentation.

    The nurse wasn't kept on, Meyer told jurors, because of "mean-spirited" behavior toward the medical staff. He accused Azhari of retaliating against a doctor after he and the then-pregnant nurse argued July 17, 1999. Meyer said Azhari even spread inaccurate information that a terminally ill patient died because of the doctor's negligence.

    Azhari also had sued that doctor, whom she accused of battering her, but the nurse recently dropped the lawsuit.

    She now works at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. Azhari could not be reached for comment Friday.

    Fraction: Neither side wanted to go through another trial

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