Cavanagh Law Group partner Jason Kroot is a skilled trial attorney with more than two decades of experience handling complex personal injury cases. He possesses special expertise in cases involving medical malpractice and previously set a record Cook County verdict of its kind, a $16.3 million verdict in a case involving anesthesia.
Most recently, Kroot guided CLG’s trial team that obtained a $12.5 million medical malpractice settlement for an Illinois man who suffered a stroke after being taken off a lifelong medication.
Kroot earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas in Austin and his law degree at Chicago-Kent College of Law. He has consistently been named an Illinois Leading Lawyer, an honor reserved for the top 5% of attorneys across the state.
We sat down with Kroot to learn more about his recent work, his biggest cases and what motivates him each day.
Along with Cavanagh Law Group partners Tim Cavanagh and Mike Sorich, you recently obtained a $12.5 million settlement for a Cook County man and his wife in a medical malpractice case. What are you able to share?
This was a medical malpractice case that involved a medication error on the part of two doctors.
About 10 years before the incident, our client had an artificial heart valve implanted, which placed him at a higher risk of developing a blood clot in the area of the heart valve. When a blood clot develops, it can cause a stroke by traveling up to the brain and depriving the brain of oxygen. Our client was placed on a blood thinner medication to reduce that risk, and for about 10 years, he had no blood clots and no strokes.
Then, one of his doctors had him undergo a relatively routine cardiac procedure to put his heart back into rhythm because he had arrhythmia. The procedure was successful, but the doctor mistakenly took our client off the blood thinner medication, believing he had been on it due to the arrhythmia — not the artificial heart valve. The doctor forgot the patient’s medical history in terms of why he was on the medication.
To make matters worse, a second doctor confirmed the decision to stop the blood thinner medication. When our client met with that doctor, the client explained that the first doctor told him to stop taking the medication. The second doctor confirmed seeing that in his chart. This doctor knew the reason he was on the blood thinner to begin with, but chose not to question the first doctor. That was an opportunity to correct a medical mistake that was made by the first doctor. Instead, the second doctor just accepted the first’s decision and stopped writing prescriptions for the blood thinner medication.
Our client remained off the blood thinner medication for just under three months when he suddenly developed a massive blood clot, which caused a massive stroke. As a result, our client is substantially paralyzed on the left side of his body and will be in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
During the depositions, I was able to get both doctors to admit they made a medical mistake when they took our client off the blood thinner medication. It’s highly unusual for any doctor to admit a mistake under oath — let alone two doctors in the same case. Using top experts from across the country, we proved the discontinuation of the blood thinner medication is what caused or contributed to the stroke. We also conducted multiple mock jury simulations on the case, which settled just before it was set to go to trial.
This settlement will make a huge impact in the lives of my client and his family. His wife had to quit her job to become a full-time caregiver, but the settlement will allow them to get the very best 24/7 medical care. They can move into a new home that is completely handicap accessible, which will help our client tremendously.
You have practiced medical malpractice law for more than 20 years and previously ran the medical malpractice department at one of the largest law firms in the Midwest. What drew you to the field?
Medical malpractice cases involve a victim or a family who suffered a terrible loss. I believe those people deserve justice, which requires full and fair compensation for what happened to them. I find medical malpractice work rewarding because you get to make a difference in the lives of people and families who need something — whether it be the money necessary to care for a family member or some sense of closure after a loved one has passed away.
Practicing law is a tremendous amount of work, and it takes a toll sometimes. If you’re just in it for the money, at least from my perspective, that’s not a motivation to get up every morning and to do your best. Being able to make that difference to that person or that family is what drives me every day.
Medical malpractice cases are also interesting because they are intellectually challenging. You really have to dive into the medicine that is at issue in each individual case; you have to understand all aspects of the medicine. It’s always a challenge to take a very complicated medical issue and find a way to communicate it to a jury in a way that is easy to understand but is still consistent with the medicine. Most jurors don’t have medical degrees, so it’s important to explain the medicine in an accurate and compelling way. I enjoy doing that.
Why is it important to hire an attorney who specializes in medical malpractice cases?
Medical malpractice cases are generally considered among the most difficult types of personal injury cases. They’re extremely challenging and require an attorney who is highly knowledgeable of both the medicine involved in a particular case and how to prove that medicine to a jury. Very few firms and attorneys have a proven record of successfully handling medical malpractice cases.
Oftentimes, personal injury lawyers who are not experienced in medical malpractice cases will try to handle a case, and invariably things go wrong. The case might be dismissed before trial, or a jury could return a verdict against the victim. The vast majority of verdicts in medical malpractice cases are actually for the defense. That’s why it is extremely important to hire an attorney who has a proven record of successfully handling complex medical malpractice cases.
Additionally, medical malpractice cases usually involve multiple expert witnesses. In order to prosecute each case effectively, I have an extensive list of experts that includes medical professionals in virtually every aspect of medicine. I have spent decades cultivating those relationships, which are important because not every expert is suited for every case. I can work with the right person for each case.
Let’s say I think I have a medical malpractice case. When should I contact an attorney?
It’s important to hire an attorney as soon as possible because there is often evidence that can and should be preserved within days of the occurrence. It’s important to preserve evidence that can be destroyed or altered or otherwise vanish.
You recently obtained a $750,000 settlement in a wrongful death case involving a Lake County nursing home. Tell us about that case.
That was a very sad case involving a 78-year-old woman who died after choking on food. She had multiple preexisting medical conditions, including dementia and missing teeth, so her doctor wrote an order putting her on a mechanical soft diet to reduce the risk of choking.
On the day of the incident, staff served her chicken nuggets in her room for dinner. About 20 minutes later, a nursing staff member found her on the ground unresponsive with food particulate around her mouth and on her body. She should have never been given chicken nuggets.
The staff member did not immediately perform CPR; we believe he didn’t know how. That staff member brought a nurse to the room, but the nurse didn’t know whether the patient had an advanced directive stating that the patient could be resuscitated. That’s supposed to be in the patient’s chart, which should be easily accessible. Instead, they went around the nursing home searching for an advanced directive, which did, in fact, say the patient could be resuscitated. By the time the staff began to perform CPR, roughly five minutes had passed. When paramedics arrived, they rushed the patient to the hospital, where she remained alive for several days before dying from complications related to choking.
There were multiple errors here. The patient should never have been given chicken nuggets when she was on a soft diet. The nursing home staff member should have known how to perform CPR, and someone should have performed CPR right away. The advanced directive should have been immediately available in the room, or at a minimum, right at the nurses’ station. There never should have been a five-minute delay before finally performing CPR. The delay in performing CPR was a cause of death. That was evidenced by the fact she survived several days in the hospital.
You have handled a number of high-profile cases throughout your career, including a brain injury case that resulted in a record-setting $16.3 million verdict in Cook County, Illinois. What can you tell us about that case?
That was a medical malpractice case involving an anesthesia error. During a surgical procedure, an anesthesiologist is responsible for monitoring a patient and that person’s vital signs very carefully. During the procedure in this case, the patient’s vital signs became concerning. The anesthesiologist failed to recognize there was a problem and did not respond to dangerous vital signs for a prolonged period of time. As a result, the patient suffered oxygen deprivation, which ultimately caused permanent brain damage. The patient’s spouse was very appreciative of all of the hard work we put in to the case because it means the patient will receive the best possible care going forward.
You previously represented the family of a Chicago Public Schools (CPS) student who died from peanut exposure at school. That case garnered considerable media attention and resulted in a confidential settlement. What details are you able to share?
It was a very tragic case involving a 13-year-old girl who died of a severe allergic reaction after she was given peanut product by her teacher at school. The case still makes me extremely sad for the family. No one ever recovers from losing a child.
The girl was a student at Chicago Public Schools, and her teacher decided to order takeout food for the class. Some of the food contained peanut product, and the girl was severely allergic to peanuts. Her teacher testified that he asked the restaurant whether there were peanuts in any of the food; the restaurant reportedly said no. But the staff at the restaurant didn’t speak much English, which I think was probably a significant factor in how this tragedy occurred. I believe there was a communication breakdown between the teacher ordering the food and the restaurant worker not fully understanding the question. The combination of mistakes made by the teacher and the restaurant allowed the girl’s death to happen. She unfortunately had a severe allergic reaction, and her airway quickly started to close. She ultimately died as a result.
Her parents will never get over her death, but there is some consolation in knowing this became a high-profile case and brought increased attention to the dangers of having peanut products in schools. Children don’t always have the requisite knowledge to know which foods to avoid. There have been a lot of changes made throughout various school systems in regard to added safety precautions related to peanut product.
Another of your cases that garnered considerable media attention involved a patient at Riveredge Hospital in Forest Park, Illinois. What happened there?
Our client was a psychiatric patient at Riveredge Hospital, which had a history of putting patients who were identified as sexually violent next to patients who were not. The hospital did not provide proper precautions to protect patients from those were sexually violent or known to act out sexually.
As a result, my client was sexually assaulted and raped. There were actually two separate incidents within a matter of several hours. When my client reported the first attack to the staff, they assumed my client was making it up and didn’t take it seriously. Nothing was done. Several hours later, my client endured a violent and gruesome rape at the hands of the same patient. Police were finally called, and an investigation was undertaken. At a minimum, the hospital should have erred on the side of caution and presumed the first attack occurred — even if staff suspected it didn’t.
We were able to prove that both sexual assaults occurred and that the hospital failed to take proper precautions to protect patients from those who were sexually violent. The staff also failed to take proper precautions after the first sexual assault occurred, which should have prevented the second attack. We also uncovered that the hospital did not report the assaults in a timely fashion and discovered that there were prior instances in which the hospital did not report accusations of sexual assault.
Ultimately, the case resulted in significant fines for the hospital, and they lost certain federal funding. We obtained a significant confidential settlement, and the family was very grateful because they believed they received justice.
You joined Cavanagh Law Group as a partner in 2020 after more than two decades at other top Chicago law firms. What drew you to Cavanagh Law Group?
Cavanagh Law Group has a reputation of achieving exceptional results in very challenging cases. I knew some of the results included a $55 million verdict in an Illinois railroad case and a $20 million settlement in a Chicago Police Department “code of silence” case.
When I met [founding partner] Tim Cavanagh and other partners at the firm, I learned there was a high value placed on collaboration and on aggressively prosecuting each case to the fullest. I would say what sets Cavanagh Law Group apart from other firms is the exceptional results, the collaboration and the tremendous attention to detail and diligence on every single case we handle.
Why is it important that Cavanagh Law Group attorneys work collaboratively? How does that benefit clients?
It means clients are not only getting the primary attorney that was assigned to their case. You also get the benefit of the knowledge, skills and experience of every attorney at the firm. We routinely roundtable each case to assess how best to prosecute it. Each case has its own strengths and challenges.
Can you describe a mix of the work you do within the firm?
In addition to medical malpractice cases, I handle a wide variety of other personal injury cases, including auto cases, premises liability, product liability and construction cases.
What do you do for fun in your spare time?
I’m very active with my two kids, who are 12 and 14. I would say virtually every weekend is centered on taking them to various sporting activities — whether it be softball, soccer, basketball or volleyball. I have also coached soccer at multiple levels for my kids and been involved in a number of charities, including PAWS Chicago.
I’ve also been an amateur auto racer for the past 15 years. I’ve raced in California and across the Midwest. Before I had kids, I used to do wheel-to-wheel auto racing through various organizations, including the SCCA. Now, I do more time trial events, where you’re going for the fastest time around the course in a given lap, using mostly street vehicles.