Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Injury Law

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An Illinois inmate sued a corrections officer, Liszewski, with whom he had had an altercation almost a decade ago, alleging excessive force. On remand after an initial dismissal, a jury determined that Liszewski had used excessive force, but awarded Moore only one dollar on the ground (one of the options given in jury instructions) that the excessive force had not caused injury, so there was nothing to compensate. After exploring the justifications for awarding nominal damages as opposed to simply rejecting the suit, the Seventh Circuit affirmed. “By making the deprivation of such rights . . . actionable for nominal damages without proof of actual injury, the law recognizes the importance to organized society that those rights be scrupulously observed; but at the same time, it remains true to the principle that substantial damages should be awarded only to compensate actual injury or, in the case of exemplary or punitive damages, to deter or punish malicious deprivations of rights.” The court noted evidence that Moore’s the injury was attributable to having fallen and hit his head on a table, an accident not caused by Liszewski. View "Moore v. Liszewski" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Linda Phillips, an employee of Hoker Trucking, driving a semi‐truck in Indiana, struck a vehicle driven by Robbins, who died as a result of the injuries he sustained in the accident. The truck driven by Phillips was pulling a trailer Hoker borrowed from Lakeville. Lakeville had a Great West Casualty insurance policy covering the trailer. There was a separate suit concerning the liability of Phillips and Hoker. To preempt a possible claim against Lakeville’s policy, Great West sought a declaratory judgment against Hoker, Phillips, and Robbins’s estate, that it did not have to indemnify Hoker and Phillips for any liability in connection with the accident. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Great West. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that Great West’s policy was ambiguous as to whether Hoker and Phillips were excluded from coverage and should be construed against Great West; that even if the exclusions are not ambiguous, they do not exclude Hoker and Phillips from coverage; and regardless of whether the exclusions apply to Hoker and Phillips or not, such exclusions are invalid under Wisconsin law, the state where the trailer is registered. The court found the policy unambiguous. View "Great West Cas. Co. v. Robbins" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Williams visited the Van de Venters in Monroe County, Indiana. They told Williams that their labrador retriever, Emma, would ring a bell by the door if she needed to go out and he should let her out. Williams chose to walk Emma on a leash. When a neighborhood dog barked, Emma lurched toward the sound, pulling Williams to the ground and seriously injuring his shoulder. Williams sued the Van de Venters. Their AmFam home-insurance policy included personal liability coverage indemnifying them for damages for bodily injury and guaranteeing a defense against such suits. The policy contained a provision stating: “Intra-Insured Suits. We will not cover bodily injury to any ‘insured’,” defined as “any person ... legally responsible for a[n] ... animal owned by [a named insured or resident relative of a named insured] to which [the policy’s personal-liability coverages] apply.” The district court rejected AmFam’s position that these provisions relieved it of the duty to defend or indemnify. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. It would make no sense to treat Williams as if he were “legally responsible” for his own injuries resulting from the dog’s actions; he was not an insured for purposes of this incident. View "Am. Family Mut. Ins. v. Williams" on Justia Law

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In 2006, the Zoretics rented a Castilian Court condominium. Their landlord stopped paying condominium assessments and lost possession to Castilian in 2008. Castilian obtained an eviction order. The Cook County Sheriff evicted the family in January 2009. Later that day, Castilian’s agent allowed them to reenter the unit, agreeing they would sign a new lease. Zoretic never signed the lease or paid rent. After receiving no response to two letters, Castilian’s lawyers obtained a new date stamp (April 2009) from the Clerk on the September 2008 order and placed the order with the Sheriff. On June 5, deputies knocked, announced their presence, got no answer, opened the door, and entered the unit with guns drawn. They found Zoretic, put down their weapons, conducted a protective sweep, and escorted Zoretic out of the unit. Days later, Zoretic sued and was awarded possession until Castilian obtained a lawful eviction order. The family returned, continued not paying rent, and were evicted in March 2012. Zoretic sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed as to Fourth Amendment claims against the deputies, but affirmed as to claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress against the owners. Zoretic failed to create a material factual dispute about whether the owners were extreme and outrageous in pursuing eviction. View "Zoretic v. Darge" on Justia Law

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Stevens, an insurance salesman, wanted to sell investment products. Because he was not registered with the SEC, Stevens needed to associate himself with a registered investment advisor, 15 U.S.C. 80b-3(a). In 2003, he associated with IFA, a loosely confederated investment advisory firm. In exchange for sharing clientele and fees with IFA, Stevens had access to IFA’s market resources and proprietary information, including access to a cloud-based data system. Stevens uploaded sensitive nonpublic information, concerning both investment clients and insurance clients (who were not IFA clients). IFA did not know that Stevens had entered the non-IFA client information into the database. IFA learned that Stevens was involved in a Ponzi scheme, severed its association with Stevens, and blocked Stevens from accessing the database. Stevens sued, alleging conversion, violation of the Illinois Trade Secrets Act, and tortious interference with business expectancy. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for IFA on claims relating to securities clients. Federal law prevents a financial institution from disclosing nonpublic information of its clients to a nonaffiliated third party like Stevens. The court also affirmed a verdict in favor of IFA concerning insurance clients, upholding the trial court’s response to a question sent by the jury during deliberations, “Can we consider [filing] the lawsuit a demand for property?” The court stated that filing did not constitute a demand for the purposes of an Illinois law conversion claim. View "Stevens v. Interactive Fin. Advisors, Inc." on Justia Law

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West Virginia sued pharmaceutical distributors, seeking to hold them liable for contributing to the state’s epidemic of prescription drug abuse. The complaint alleged that certain pharmacies, “pill mills,” knowingly provided citizens with hydrocodone, oxycodone, codeine, and other prescription drugs, not for legitimate uses, but to fuel and profit from their addictions. The state contends that those pharmacies ordered drugs in quantities so large that the distributors should have known they would be used for illicit purposes. H.D. Smith, a distributor, had a general commercial liability insurance policy issued by Cincinnati Insurance. The policy covered damages that H.D. Smith became legally obligated to pay “because of bodily injury,” defined as “bodily injury, sickness or disease sustained by a person, including death.” “[D]amages because of bodily injury” include “damages claimed by any person or organization for care, loss of services or death resulting at any time from the bodily injury.” Cincinnati refused to defend the suit and obtained a declaratory judgment. The Seventh Circuit reversed summary judgment. The plain language of the policy requires Cincinnati to defend a suit brought by a plaintiff to recover money paid to care for someone who was injured by H.D. Smith. West Virginia’s suit fits that description. View "Cincinnati Ins. Co. v. H.D. Smith, LLC." on Justia Law

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Three female employees of Metro Paramedic Services sued Metro and Antioch Rescue Squad, alleging an unrelenting practice of egregious sexual harassment, assault and battery, retaliation for whistleblowing, and failure to supervise. They alleged that Antioch and Metro were a partnership or joint venture, jointly staffed and operated. Metro used Antioch ambulances, and employees of both entities used Antioch uniforms and gear. Two of the employees resolved their claims, based on an offer of judgment from Metro and Antioch; the third reached a settlement with both. AAIC, Antioch’s liability insurer, covered Antioch’s defense costs and indemnified its offers of judgment and settlement, but insisted that it had no obligation to cover Metro under Antioch’s policy and sought a declaratory judgment. The district court found, and the Seventh Circuit affirmed, that AAIC owed Metro a duty to defend. The policy stated, “If you are ... a partnership or joint venture, you are an insured. Your members and your partners are also insureds but only within the course and scope of your operations.” The arrangement qualified as a joint venture. View "Am. Alternative Ins. Corp. v. Metro Paramedic Servs., Inc." on Justia Law

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Baptist began working at Ford’s assembly plant, operating a forklift. Less than three months later, Baptist inadvertently hit a pillar, injuring his left wrist. He visited Ford’s medical department and submitted an injury report. An investigator and Ford’s physician doubted Baptist’s account of his injury; Baptist did not report the incident properly and refused to release medical records from a prior workers’ compensation case against another employer involving an injury to his other wrist. Ford paid for Baptist’s initial visit to an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Heller. The parties are litigating Baptist’s workers’ compensation claim. After working two months, Baptist again sought medical attention. Dr. Heller diagnosed him with a complete ligament tear, recommended surgery, indicated that Baptist was not able to perform the essential function of his job, and cleared him to return to work if he did not lift or grip over five pounds with his left hand. Disagreeing with Ford's doctor, Baptist believed that this prevented him from operating the forklift and asked for another position. He did not work for several days. Ford suspended him for one month. When Baptist returned, he was told that the only available work was as a forklift driver. Baptist later testified that he was told that he would be fired unless he agreed to state that his injury did not happen at work. The company denied this assertion. Baptist was discharged for having three consecutive absences without justification. In a suit alleging retaliation for exercising his workers’ compensation rights, the court granted Ford summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit vacated. A triable issue exists regarding whether Baptist was put to the impracticable choice between keeping his job or giving up a key argument for workers’ compensation. View "James Baptist v. Ford Motor Company" on Justia Law

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NAMC, which buys, services, and sells residential mortgages, and GSF, a residential mortgage lender that also sells mortgages, entered into an Agreement whereby GSF would sell loans to NAMC. To use the Fannie Mae Desktop Originator System (DO), which evaluates potential mortgagors under Fannie Mae’s eligibility standards, GSF needed a sponsoring lender. GSF had several sponsors from 2006 until 2011; one was NAMC. Every time GSF downloaded a report it paid Fannie Mae a $15 fee and the sponsoring lender had to pay Fannie Mae between $20 and $28. GSF was not aware that the sponsoring lender also had to pay a fee. In 2008 NAMC terminated its Agreement with GSF, but failed to notify GSF to stop using it as a sponsoring lender. NAMC was billed by Fannie Mae for almost $278,000 for GSF’s use of the system, 2008-2011. The district judge granted summary judgment in favor of GSF in a suit charging breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, and unjust enrichment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. “NAMC is a sophisticated enterprise... its failure to cancel its sponsorship of GSF when it severed all its other relations to that company was an inexplicable blunder for which it has only itself to blame.” View "Nationwide Advantage Mortgage Co. v. GSF Mortgage Corp." on Justia Law
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Sam was driving; his wife, Toni, was a passenger when their car slammed into a tree. Toni was injured and died within a week. Her estate sued Sam, claiming negligent driving, and sued the hospital and physicians, alleging malpractice. The medical defendants filed third-party actions against Sam, seeking contribution should they be held liable. State Farm is defending Sam in both suits, under a policy with indemnity of $250,000 per person ($500,000 total) for auto accidents. State Farm has offered to pay policy limits; its offer has not been accepted because of a dispute about the terms of the release. The couple had a Cincinnati Insurance excess policy ($5 million). Cincinnati unsuccessfully sought a declaratory judgment that its policy does not apply. The Seventh Circuit affirmed that Cincinnati must defend Sam in the suit between the estate and the medical defendants. The court found no prejudicial delay in notifying the company; rejected an argument that Cincinnati had no duty to defend because of State Farm’s failure to pay; and rejected Cincinnati’s argument that its policy does not apply because both Sam and Toni are insureds. The court cited the exclusion’s exception: “[w]hen a third party acquires a right of contribution against you or any relative.” Neither defense nor indemnity is appropriate in the estate’s suit against Sam. View "Cincinnati Ins. Co. v. Estate of Chee" on Justia Law