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

Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice

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Glisson was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer. His larynx, part of his pharynx, portions of his mandible and 13 teeth were removed. He was fitted with a voice prosthesis, and received postoperative radiation treatment. Later, doctors inserted a gastrojejunostomy tube to help with nutrition and a cancerous lesion on his tongue was excised. Glisson also suffered memory issues, hypothyroidism, depression, smoking, and alcohol abuse. Glisson was sentenced to incarceration for giving a friend prescription painkillers. Prison medical personnel noted spikes in Glisson’s blood pressure, low pulse, low oxygen saturation level, confusion, and anger. His condition worsened, indicating acute renal failure. After a short hospital stay, Glisson died in prison. The district court rejected his mother’s suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 on summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit initially affirmed, rejecting a claim that failure to implement an Indiana Department of Corrections Health Care Service Directive, requiring a plan for management of chronic diseases, violated the Eighth Amendment. On rehearing, en banc, the court reversed. The Department’s healthcare contractor, Corizon, was not constitutionally required to adopt the Directives or any particular document, but was required to ensure that a well-recognized risk for a defined class of prisoners not be deliberately left to happenstance. Corizon had notice of the problems posed by lack of coordination, but did nothing to address that risk. Glisson was managing his difficult medical situation successfully until he fell into the hands of the Indiana prison system and Corizon. View "Glisson v. Indiana Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Lake, a prisoner at Illinois’ Hill Correctional Center, claimed, in his suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, that Dr. Jackson, the prison’s dentist had refused to send him to an outside dentist to extract a decayed tooth that was causing him pain. Lake claimed that Wexford, the contractor serving the prison, has policy of withholding medical care to save money. Although Dr. Jackson assured him that his mouth could be numbed successfully, Lake refused to let her pull the tooth and complained to Wexford that he was suffering needlessly because of its refusal to provide him with outside treatment. Lake later agreed to let a different prison dentist extract the tooth. A local anesthetic was used during the extraction, but Lake complained afterward that the procedure had been painful. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment, rejecting Lake’s claims, and agreeing that a jury would have to find that Dr. Jackson had been exercising professional judgment in predicting that administering a local anesthetic would enable her to extract the decayed tooth without inflicting significant pain. View "Lake v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc." on Justia Law

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Harper, an Illinois prisoner, sued a prison doctor and a nurse under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for deliberate indifference to his pain following nine abdominal surgeries, the management of his diet, and inattention to a possible renal cell tumor. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants, concluding that Harper had not produced evidence from which a jury could find that either defendant ignored a substantial risk of harm. Harper was evaluated and treated each time that he appeared at the health center, given a treatment plan, and told to return if his symptoms persisted. Harper is not entitled to dictate how he should have been treated or whether he should have been transferred. View "Harper v. Santos" on Justia Law

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Dr. Kohli, a board-certified neurologist with extensive training in the treatment of chronic pain, operated the Kohli Neurology and Sleep Center in Effingham, Illinois. Irregularities in the practice eventually caught the attention of federal officials; he was indicted on three counts of healthcare fraud, two counts of money laundering, and 10 counts of illegal dispensation of a controlled substance (Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. 841(a)). During a 15-day trial, the jury learned about Dr. Kohli’s prescribing practices from law enforcement and healthcare professionals, expert witnesses, and his patients and their family members. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, upholding various evidentiary rulings and jury instructions and finding the verdict supported by substantial evidence. The court rejected an argument that the district court somehow conflated the standards for civil and criminal liability, or that it otherwise misled the jury into believing that it could find Dr. Kohli criminally liable for engaging in mere civil malpractice. View "United States v. Kohli" on Justia Law

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When Chelsea was five months old, she was dropped and suffered a skull fracture. As the fracture expanded, a cyst formed. The fracture and cyst were not a problem until, at age 17, she was hit in the head and suffered a loss of consciousness, blurred vision, and dizziness. After CT and MRI scans confirmed the extent of the fracture and the cyst, Chelsea underwent “cranioplasty” surgery. She was discharged after one day and was found dead in her bed three days later. A board‐certified forensic pathologist was unable to identify a cause of death and, based on the opinion of a neuropathologist, concluded that Chelsea had died from a seizure brought about by surgical damage. Neither doctor was aware of or had reviewed the pre‐surgery CT and MRI scans when they made their findings. Chelsea’s mother sued the hospital and doctors, arguing that anti-seizure medicine should have been prescribed. The defendants argued that no seizure had occurred and that a heart‐related ailment was the likely cause of death. A jury found in the defendants’ favor. The Seventh Circuit vacated, finding that one defense expert lacked the requisite qualifications to opine that a heart ailment was the likely cause of death and that there was a significant chance that the erroneous admission of the testimony affected the trial’s outcome. View "Hall v. Flannery" on Justia Law

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McDonald, an Illinois inmate in the segregation unit, suffered an asthma attack in his cell. There were no emergency call buttons. Hours later. his cellmate banged on the door to alert the guards. A guard eventually escorted McDonald to the prison’s healthcare unit, run by Wexford, a private company. McDonald was wheezing and using his accessory muscles to breathe. Nurse Reuter started him on oxygen and administered medications, then phoned Dr. Larson, who was the only on-call doctor for several correctional facilities. He slept through the call. He finally returned her call and prescribed several medications. Thirty minutes later, McDonald was still using his accessory muscles to breathe. Larson then ordered his transfer to a hospital via ambulance and called ahead. In the ER, Dr. Reyes treated him with medications for about two hours, then inserted a breathing tube. McDonald died. The court rejected his estate’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 claims against the warden and Wexford, which focused on the lack of a permanent medical director and the lack of emergency call buttons in segregation cells. Claims against Larson, Reuter, and the guards tried to a jury, which returned a defense verdict. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The evidence did not support a reasonable inference that the warden consciously disregarded a substantial risk of harm to McDonald nor establish that a Wexford policy caused a constitutional injury. View "Chatham v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Rivera, a federal inmate, was burned on his leg, foot, and ankle while working in the prison kitchen. A nurse initially treated the second-degree burn. Rivera returned to the healthcare unit daily so that staff could clean and dress the wound, and complained about pain and numbness. A physician assistant stated that his symptoms probably were normal and suggested that he return in six months. He did so and was told that his symptoms were probably permanent. He saw a physician, Gupta, explaining that his family was willing to pay for him to consult a burn specialist. According to Rivera, Gupta refused to examine him, look up his records, or authorize any treatment, admonishing him that he wouldn’t have scalded himself had he not been in prison, that “only God” could help him, and that if he complained again, Gupta would write a disciplinary report. Gupta disputes Rivera’s account. Rivera sued Gupta and Lopez, an administrator, who did not respond to Rivera’s complaints, for deliberate indifference, violating his Eighth Amendment rights. The district court entered summary judgment for the defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed as to Lopez, who is not a medical professional, but reversed as to Gupta, noting that Lopez was without legal representation. A reasonable jury might infer that personal hostility, divorced from medical judgment, had motivated Gupta’s refusal to provide Rivera with any further treatment, even by a burn specialist whom Rivera’s family would have compensated. View "Rivera v. Gupta" on Justia Law

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Illinois prisoner Petties was climbing stairs when he felt a “pop” and extreme pain in his ankle. At the prison infirmary, the examining physician prescribed Vicodin and crutches and a week of “lay-in.” The medical director, Dr. Carter, noted in the file that Petties had suffered an “Achilles tendon rupture” and modified the instructions, directing that Petties be scheduled for an MRI and orthopedic examination as an “urgent” matter. Prison lockdowns resulted in cancelation of three appointments. Eight weeks passed before he received an orthopedic boot. Petties claimed that a year later, he still experienced “serious pain, soreness, and stiffness” in his ankle. Petties argued that Carter was deliberately indifferent by failing to immobilize his ankle with a boot or cast immediately and that a physician he saw later was deliberately indifference in not ordering physical therapy despite a recommendation. The Seventh Circuit initially affirmed summary judgment in favor of the doctors, but on rehearing, en banc, reversed. Even if a doctor denies knowing that he was exposing a plaintiff to a substantial risk of serious harm, evidence from which a reasonable jury could infer a doctor knew he was providing deficient treatment is sufficient to survive summary judgment. Petties produced sufficient evidence for a jury to conclude that the doctors knew the care they were providing was insufficient. View "Petties v. Carter" on Justia Law

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Essex issued a professional liability insurance policy to Galilee Medical Center, covering claims against Galilee physicians, including Angarita. Galilee’s application asked, “Do[] the Applicant’s employees or independent contractors use drugs for weight reduction for patients?” Galilee answered no. The question continued: “If yes, attach a list of drugs used and percentage of practice devoted to weight reduction.” Galilee did not identify any drugs. Galilee also answered “no” to whether its employees performed any experimental procedures and to “With the exception of surgery for obesity, does your practice include weight reduction or control by other [sic] than diet or exercise? 5.(b) Do you dispense any drugs? 5.(c) Do you use injections for weight control? 9.(a) Do you use experimental procedures, devices, drugs, or therapy in treatment or surgery?” In 2011, Ravelo, Angarita’s former patient, sued Angarita and Galilee for medical negligence based on mesotherapy treatments administered by Angarita. Mesotherapy is a non-surgical treatment involving injections into subcutaneous layers of fat, to dissolve deposits of fat and provide a more desirable body shape. Mesotherapy is not FDA-approved. Angarita admitted to providing mesotherapy treatment to more than 5,000 patients, including Ravelo. Essex denied coverage and sought a declaratory judgment rescinding the Policy. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Essex, based on the misrepresentations in the applications. View "Essex Ins. Co. v. Angarita" on Justia Law

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In 1988, Department of Professional Regulation investigator visited Gekas, a Springfield, Illinois dentist, and expressed concern that Gekas had administered nitrous oxide to a child. He ordered Gekas to provide information on all prescriptions on a continuing basis. Gekas contacted Deputy Governor Riley for assistance. After a meeting, the Department imposed less onerous requirements. In 2002, a Department investigator raided Gekas’ offices, with the assistance of the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency. After failed negotiations, the Department issued a cease and desist order against Gekas for the unlicensed practice of medicine and prescribing controlled substances while not a licensed physician and sought to have his license suspended, on grounds that Gekas had prescribed 4,600 doses of Hydrocodone and Vicoprofen to a patient. Gekas contacted his Senator. In 2008, the cease-and-desist was vacated and the complaint dismissed. Gekas submitted a FOIA request concerning the administrative complaint. The Department responded that no public documents were available. In 2009, Gekas filed suit; it was dismissed by stipulation in 2010. Meanwhile, a Chairman on the Illinois Board of Dentistry issued subpoenas against Gekas, stating that there was reasonable cause to believe that Gekas had violated the Illinois Dental Practice Act. Gekas filed suit, alleging First Amendment retaliation. The district court granted defendants summary judgment, finding no evidence of retaliatory motive. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. View "Gekas v. Vasiliades" on Justia Law