Left to right: Christopher Zinski and Jay Williams Schiff Hardin
Left to right: Christopher Zinski and Jay Williams Schiff Hardin ()

Christopher Zinski was a 50-year-old partner at Schiff Hardin when he checked himself into the Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital in suburban Chicago late one Saturday night in September 2012.

After complaining of a headache, neck pain, disorientation and vomiting, Zinski was told by hospital staffers that he had a dehydration headache. He was given an IV bag and sent home, recalled his wife, Patricia “Pattie” Zinski, a former associate at Sidley Austin.

Two days later, on a Monday afternoon, Zinski collapsed at his desk at Schiff Hardin’s office in the iconic Willis Tower. He had suffered a stroke caused by a brain aneurism.

On Monday, Nov. 21, Judge Thomas Lyons II with the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, approved a $20 million settlement between Central DuPage Hospital and Zinski. The Chicago Tribune reported Monday that the agreement ended a trial that began on Oct. 28.

The civil case filed by the Zinskis in September 2013 claimed that the former Schiff Hardin partner suffered severe brain damage after the hospital failed to properly diagnose him by neglecting to administer at CT scan. (Counsel for the hospital at Denver’s Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell did not return a request for comment.)

“The settlement is bittersweet because there’s no fixing the damage that’s happened to Chris,” Pattie Zinski said in an interview Tuesday.

After his stroke, Zinski spent close to five months in the hospital and nearly two years in rehabilitation therapy. He had to re-learn how to swallow, speak and walk. Even today, he still suffers from constant memory loss. “His day restarts every five minutes,” added Pattie Zinski.

Schiff Hardin paid for Pattie Zinski’s hotel room as she waited by her husband’s bedside during his months in the hospital, and the firm provided gift cards to use on food for her children. Shortly after Zinski was discharged from the hospital in 2013, Schiff Hardin worked with Pattie Zinski in lining up legal representation.

The firm eventually teamed up with Burke Wise Morrissey Kaveny, a well-regarded Chicago plaintiffs shop, in filing suit against Central DuPage Hospital and the emergency care personnel that treated Zinski on the Saturday before his stroke. While a medical malpractice case was atypical of what a commercial law firm would normally take on, Schiff Hardin made an exception for Zinski.

“It was [important] for us to handle this for Chris because he was one of us,” said Jay Williams, a litigation partner at Schiff Hardin in Chicago and co-counsel in the malpractice litigation. “We would all like to think that our firm would stand up for us if there was some injustice done, or seek justice on behalf of our colleague friend and partner.”

In 1989, Zinski founded boutique Breyer & Zinski in Washington, D.C., where he represented financial institutions in regulatory matters and transactions. He joined Schiff Hardin in 1993 and went on to chair the firm’s financial institutions group, leaving in 2006 to become general counsel of Chicago-based PrivateBancorp Inc. The corporate and securities expert re-joined Schiff Hardin in late 2009 after three years as legal chief for PrivateBank, which was sold last summer for $3.8 billion to the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

“Chris was an amazing business developer and networker,” Williams recalled. “He was always looking to network with people, introduce you to other people, make your career better and help you figure out a business plan. And when a matter came in, instead of keeping all the credit for himself, Chris would share that credit.”

The settlement announced Monday will allow the Zinski family some flexibility to explore new and experimental treatments and therapy for Zinski, as well as provide financial security for his four children. Pattie Zinski now works at Synapse House, an Elmhurst, Illinois-based nonprofit organization that works to connect those with brain injuries to the community. She hopes the settlement serves as a cautionary tale to medical professionals.

“My hope, at least, is that it makes the hospital community take notice and change the way they approach a patient that comes in with symptoms like Chris had and hopefully is an impetus to better training,” Pattie Zinski said.

When Zinski’s wife and Jay Williams told him the case was finally over on Monday, Zinski smiled and said simply, “Great.”