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

Articles Posted in Personal Injury

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Baugh fell off a five‐foot, A‐frame aluminum ladder while working on a gutter. Baugh sustained significant bleeding in his brain, which caused seizures, dementia, and quadriplegia. In a suit against Cuprum, which designed and manufactured the ladder, alleging a design defect under strict liability and negligence theories, Baugh argued that the ladder was not designed to accommodate 200-pound individuals and that a feasible alternate design would have prevented the accident. Cuprum argued that the accident occurred because Baugh climbed too high on the ladder, standing on its fourth step and pail shelf, neither of which were intended to be stood on. A jury found in Cuprum’s favor. On remand, Baugh elicited testimony from neighbors and a paramedic, all of whom arrived post‐accident, and from experts relating to the cause of the accident and the severity of his resulting injuries. There was testimony concerning how many pounds per square inch could be exerted on the ladder and how Baugh was standing on the ladder. Cuprum elicited contrary testimony. The Seventh Circuit affirmed an award of $11 million. Baugh’s experts’ methodologies were adequate; Cuprum’s challenges concerned the weight of their testimony rather than its admissibility. A reasonable jury could find in Baugh’s favor. Baugh supplied sufficient evidence that a feasible alternative existed, and that the accident was more likely attributable to the ladder’s original defective design than to its improper use. View "Baugh v. Cuprum S.A. de C.V." on Justia Law

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Parker and her sister, Schiavon, checked into adjoining rooms at the Four Seasons. In each, a sliding glass door separated the shower area from the vanity area. As Parker exited the shower area by opening that door, it exploded, raining shards of glass onto her naked body and causing her injuries. Schiavon summoned help. Gartin, a hotel engineer, arrived, immediately looked at the overhead track and said: “Looks like the stopper moved again!” He explained that a “bunch” of newly installed glass doors had exploded because the track stoppers were not working properly, allowing the door-handles to crash into walls and cause the glass to explode. Gartin said the room was on a “do not sell” list; “You might want to check yours.” Schiavon checked and determined that the door in her room had the same defect. Parker uncovered evidence suggesting that the door in her room had previously shattered and had been replaced. An email between third party contractors revealed that several rooms had similar issues. The hotel conceded negligence. The court blocked Parker from raising the issue of punitive damages before the jury, finding her evidence insufficient as a matter of law. Parker recovered $20,000 in compensatory damages, reduced to $12,000 after set-off. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Four Seasons may have thought it repaired the problem. Parker’s room could have been pulled from service for another reason. These are issues for a fact-finder. Parker has the right to present her punitive damages claim to the jury. View "Parker v. Four Seasons Hotels, Ltd." on Justia Law

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Piotrowski, walking in the parking lot at a Menard's store, stepped on one or two small rocks that she had not seen. She fell, very hard, outside the store entrance. About 50-125 feet away, there is a large concrete planter, containing decorative “river rock.” The store’s front end manager had seen children in the planter on occasion. Menard also sold decorative river rock. The store’s general manager walked the store’s premises, including the parking lot, daily. Other employees also walked through the parking lot throughout the day and were responsible for reporting hazards. Piotrowski went by ambulance to the hospital after her fall and was treated for fracture, torn ligaments, and dislocation of her right elbow. Her injuries required four additional hospitalizations and three more surgeries within one year. The district court rejected Piotrowski’s negligence claims on summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Piotrowski’s belief that she fell as a result of the store’s negligence is speculation. That Piotrowski fell in the parking lot after slipping on two rocks is not enough to support an inference that Menard’s negligence caused the fall. There was no evidence of a pattern of conduct or recurring incident; the store’s manager and employees regularly monitored the parking lot for unsafe conditions. View "Piotrowski v. Menard, Inc." on Justia Law
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Juan purchased Professional Strength Goof Off to remove paint from a concrete basement floor; its primary active ingredient is acetone, which is extremely flammable and evaporates quickly at room temperature. The can contained warnings in English and Spanish and instructed users who wanted to remove concrete stains to “[a]pply directly. Agitate with brush.” Juan claims that he read most of the warnings and opened a window and two doors to the outside. It is unclear whether he turned off pilot lights for two water heaters and a furnace in a separate portion of the basement. While Juan was using a broom to spread the product, a fire erupted and severely burned his face, head, neck, and hands. Juan sued. The district judge rejected his claims on summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed rejection of a failure‐to‐warn claim. The warning label adequately identified the principal hazards and precautionary measures to be taken while using the product. The court reversed rejection of the design defect claims under both strict liability and negligence. Juan adequately established that the fire may have been caused by static sparks created when Juan agitated Goof Off with a brush as the label instructed. A genuine factual issue exists as to whether an ordinary consumer would expect a fire to erupt under these circumstances, whether this risk outweighs the product's benefits, and whether the manufacturer should have known that agitation could create static sparks sufficient for ignition. View "Suarez v. W.M. Barr & Co., Inc," on Justia Law

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In 2008, Huon was charged with criminal sexual assault of Jane Doe. He claimed that the encounter was consensual and was acquitted. The website Above the Law (ATL) published an article entitled, “Rape Potpourri” which discussed two “rape stories,” one of which concerned Jane Doe’s allegations and Huon’s opening statement at his trial; the post was later updated to note that Huon was acquitted. Huon sued ATL, alleging defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and false light invasion of privacy. Days later, a Gawker website published an article entitled, “Acquitted Rapist Sues Blog for Calling Him Serial Rapist” with Huon’s 2008 mugshot and the ATL article. The title was later changed to, “Man Acquitted of Sexual Assault Sues Blog for Calling Him Serial Rapist.” The Gawker article generated 80 comments from anonymous third-party users. Huon added Gawker as a defendant. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of the defamation claim. The title can be construed innocently when viewed with the rest of the article, which fairly reported on Huon’s trial and his initial complaint. The court reversed dismissal of the defamation claim concerning the third-party user comments. Huon adequately alleged that the publisher helped create at least some of the comments; one of the comments constitutes defamation under Illinois law. Because that claim was reinstated, the court also reinstated the false-light and intentional-infliction claims, which were dismissed against Gawker based solely on the rejection of his defamation claims. View "Huon v. Denton" 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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Plaintiff was supervising a BNSF crew, removing and reinstalling timber crossing planks. The crew had difficulty removing one plank, and with plaintiff’s approval, used a front‐end loader, which caused the plank to fly loose as plaintiff was walking on the track and to strike his leg. Days later he went to his doctor and learned that he had fractured his tibia. After first stating that he had been injured at home, on advice of his union, plaintiff told his supervisor, Veitz, about the injury. BNSF paid his medical bills and, pursuant to its policy, staged a reenactment and concluded that plaintiff had been careless. Later, a crew member told Veitz that he thought plaintiff was injured 10 days before the incident, while removing railroad ties from railroad property. Pursuant to its collective bargaining agreement, BNSF investigated. For his carelessness in the front-loader incident (which cost it medical expenses), BNSF imposed a 30-day suspension, but discharged plaintiff for the theft. Veitz testified that he had not given plaintiff permission to take ties, which are soaked in creosote. BNSF does not give or sell creosote products to employees or the public because of potential hazards The National Railroad Adjustment Board and OSHA denied plaintiff’s appeals. A jury awarded plaintiff damages under the Federal Railroad Safety Act, which forbids a railroad to discriminate against an employee for reporting a work-related injury, 49 U.S.C. 20109(a). The Seventh Circuit reversed, finding no evidence that the firing was related to the injury report. The company has a firm policy of firing employees discovered to have stolen company property. View "Koziara v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

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Kelham, a railroad engineer, halted a mile-long freight train on a parallel track to enable a higher-priority train to pass. Another train, also ordered to wait on the parallel track, failed to stop at a signal and collided with Kelham’s train, causing Kelham’s locomotive to lurch forward slightly. Kelham testified that he had just begun to walk down the stairs to the locomotive’s bathroom and that the lurch caused him to fall down the stairs, injuring his back and aggravating a condition that he had called “spondylitic spondylolisthesis,” the forward slippage of a vertebra, which had previously been asymptomatic but afterward required surgery. The railroad’s experts testified that the “lurch” would have been slight and would not have caused a forward fall; the train conductor sitting with Kelham in the cab did not see him fall. For days after the accident Kelham told no one that he had fallen, nor did he have any visible injuries. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the jury’s rejection of Kelham’s claims under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. 51. The trial judge correctly rejected Kelham’s objections to admitting the evidence about his history of back problems and statements from the depositions of his doctors. It was not unreasonable for a jury to find that Kelham had fabricated the claim and that the railroad’s negligence had no causal relation to his injuries. View "Kelham v. CSX Transportation, Inc." on Justia Law
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Dr. Wesbrook, a former employee of the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation, sued Dr. Belongia, a former colleague, and Dr. Ulrich, the chief executive officer of the Marshfield Clinic. Wesbrook claimed that Belongia and Ulrich tortiously interfered with his at-will employment, engineering his termination by publishing defamatory statements about him to the Marshfield Clinic board of directors. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The defendants’ statements about the plaintiff were true or substantially true and therefore privileged. Wesbrook’s time with the Clinid was marked by conflict and complaints about his “management style.” The statements concerned those conflicts and complaints. Under Wisconsin law, an at-will employee cannot recover from former co-workers and supervisors for tortious interference on the basis of their substantially truthful statements made within the enterprise, no matter the motives underlying those statements. View "Wesbrook v. Ulrich" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Lend Lease, the construction manager of the Chicago River Point Tower Project, hired Cives as a subcontractor. Cives hired Midwest Steel. Midwest had, years before, hired AES to supply Midwest with additional workers, who were co‐employed by Midwest and AES. Lend Lease entered into a “contractor-controlled insurance program” with Starr Liability with a $500,000 deductible. All subcontractors were to join in the policy. AES had, several years earlier, obtained workers’ compensation for its workers from TIC, so that injured AES‐Midwest workers could obtain workers’ compensation from either Starr (or Lend Lease under the deductible) or TIC. Four ironworkers, jointly employed by Midwest and AES and performing work for Midwest were injured on the job and sought workers’ compensation. The claims exceeded $500,000, so Lend Lease had to pay its full deductible. Starr paid the remaining claims. Lend Lease filed suit against TIC, AES’s insurer, and AES, seeking reimbursement of the $500,000. The district court dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Lend Lease made a deal with Starr and is bound by it. The court rejected an argument that AES has been unjustly enriched; AES was not obligated to purchase an insurance policy that would cover Lend Lease's deductible. View "Lend Lease (US) Construction, Inc. v. Administrative Employer Services, Inc." on Justia Law