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

Articles Posted in Medical Malpractice
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Inmate Robinson was offered new medication. Unaware of any prescription, he questioned the officer who gave it to him and followed up with the health services manager and others. Despite learning that there was no record of any new prescription for him, Robinson took the medication. Days later, Robinson passed out. A nurse advised him to keep taking the medication. Robinson then was sent to an outside hospital, where doctors surmised that he might be allergic to the medication. The prescription was meant for a different inmate. Robinson sued. The defendants moved for summary judgment; 20 days after his deadline for filing a brief in opposition, Robinson filed a brief to support his own request for summary judgment, supplemented by a proposed statement of facts. He did not respond to the defendants’ statement of facts. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court permissibly applied Eastern District of Wisconsin Local Rule 56(b)(4) to deem the defendants’ facts unopposed, regardless of Robinson’s later filings. Based on those facts, no reasonable jury could find deliberate indifference to a serious medical risk. Nor could a jury conclude that the health‐services manager violated his constitutional rights by failing to intervene. Robinson’s state‐law negligence claims were barred by Wisconsin’s notice‐of‐claim statute. The defendants were not entitled to summary judgment based only on Robinson's failure to timely respond. View "Robinson v. Waterman" on Justia Law

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Woodson received prenatal treatment from Dr. Ramsey at NorthShore Health Centers. Ramsey informed Woodson that she would likely need to deliver her baby by C-section. Ramsey delivered P.W. vaginally at Anonymous Hospital. Woodson noticed immediately that something was wrong with P.W.’s left arm. P.W.’s arm did not improve.NorthShore is a Federally-qualified health center (FQHC) that receives federal money (42 U.S.C. 1396d(l)(2)(B)); its employees are deemed Public Health Service employees, covered against malpractice claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 42 U.S.C. 233(g). NorthShore appears in the federal government's online public database of federal funding recipients whose employees may be deemed Public Health Service employees. Woodson’s attorney, Sandoval, failed to recognize NorthShore’s status as an FQHC. Sandoval reviewed the Indiana Department of Insurance (IDOI) and Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund online databases and learned that Ramsey and Anonymous Hospital were “qualified” providers under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act. The IDOI forwarded Woodson’s complaint to Ramsey and his insurance carrier. Those claims remain pending.On December 16, 2015, NorthShore informed Sandoval that NorthShore was a federally funded health center. Woodson filed administrative tort claims, which were denied. Nearly three years after P.W.’s birth, Woodson filed suit against the government and Anonymous Hospital. The Seventh Circuit affirmed that the claims accrued on December 7, 2013, the day P.W. was born, and were untimely under the FTCA’s two-year statute of limitations. Woodson had enough information shortly after P.W.'s birth to prompt her to inquire whether the manner of delivery caused P.W.’s injury. The FTCA savings provision does not apply because the IDOI never dismissed the claims. Neither Ramsey nor NorthShore had a duty to inform Woodson of their federal status. View "P.W. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Cutchin’s wife and daughter were killed in an automobile accident that occurred when another driver, Watson, age 72, struck their vehicle. Cutchin alleges that Watson’s driving ability was impaired by medications she had been prescribed, including an opioid. Cutchin filed a malpractice suit against Watson’s healthcare providers, charging them with negligence for an alleged failure to warn Watson that she should not be driving given the known motor and cognitive effects of those medications. After the providers and their malpractice insurer agreed to a settlement of $250,000, the maximum amount for which they can be held individually liable under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act (MMA), Cutchin sought further relief from the Patient’s Compensation Fund, which acts as an excess insurer. The Fund argued that the MMA does not apply to Cutchin’s claim and that he is barred from seeking excess damages from the Fund. The district court agreed.The Seventh Circuit certified to the Indiana Supreme Court the questions: Whether Ithe MMA prohibits the Fund from contesting the Act’s applicability to a claim after the claimant concludes a court‐approved settlement with a qualified healthcare provider, and whether the MMA applies to claims brought against individuals (survivors) who did not receive medical care from the provider, but who are injured as a result of the provider’s negligence in providing medical treatment to someone else. View "Cutchin v. Robertson" on Justia Law

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In 2015, inmate Peterson suffered from genital warts. Davida, a Stateville Correctional Center physician employed by Wexford, prescribed a topical medication (Podocon-25), which is caustic and should be applied sparingly, then removed thoroughly. PODOCON-25's packaging states that “PODOCON-25© IS TO BE APPLIED ONLY BY A PHYSICIAN” and warns of multiple potential “ADVERSE REACTIONS.” Davida did not apply the Podocon-25, nor did the nurses, who instructed Peterson to apply the treatment himself. He did so and suffered personal injuries.In 2016, Peterson filed a pro se complaint against Davida, the nurses, and Illinois Department of Corrections officials under 42 U.S.C. 1983. He alleged that the officer-defendants destroyed his shower pass permits, issued as part of his treatment, or failed to intervene to correct the situation. The court granted Peterson leave to proceed in forma pauperis and dismissed his claims except as to three correctional officers. After obtaining counsel, Peterson filed an amended complaint, adding Wexford. The parties stipulated to dismissal without prejudice on January 25, 2018. On January 21, 2019, Peterson filed the operative complaint, claiming deliberate indifference under section 1983 and negligence under Illinois law against Davida, the nurses, and Wexford. The district court dismissed, finding that the complaint failed to sufficiently allege that the defendants had the requisite state of mind for deliberate indifference and that Peterson’s negligence claims were untimely because his 2016 complaint did not contain those allegations; the relation-back doctrine governs only amendments to a complaint, not a new filing.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the section 1983 claims but reversed as to the negligence claims. The court did not consider 735 ILCS 5/13-217, under which plaintiffs have an “absolute right to refile their complaint within one year” of its voluntary dismissal. View "Peterson v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc." on Justia Law

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Donald has glaucoma and keratoconus, a thinning of the cornea that causes distorted vision. To treat his keratoconus, Donald had left-eye corneal transplant surgery in 2011. A few years later, Donald was convicted of drug crimes. He began his prison sentence at Illinois River Correctional Facility in 2014. His eye problems started flaring up, causing redness and poor vision. He was subsequently seen by Illinois River’s optometrists and at Illinois Eye Center several times. Ultimately, he was diagnosed with a rupture of the globe, an irreversible loss of vision in his left eye. After surgery, pathological tests revealed that the infection that led to the ruptured globe was caused by bacteria that can act very quickly and cause perforation in as few as 72 hours. Donald filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need.The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The undisputed evidence shows that the defendants did not act with deliberate indifference toward an objectively serious medical condition and the district court appropriately exercised supplemental jurisdiction to dispose of the malpractice claim. View "Donald v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc." on Justia Law

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Machicote, a Wisconsin inmate underwent surgery to remove damaged bone, tissue, and cartilage in his ankle after he suffered an injury while playing basketball in the prison yard. After the procedure, the surgeon supplied Machicote with oxycodone and warned that he would be in “extreme pain” when the medication wore off. He was discharged with instructions recommending narcotic-strength painkillers every six hours. At the prison, Dr. Herweijer ordered Tylenol #3, as needed every six hours for three days. Because of Nurse Stecker’s scheduling of the doses, Machicote woke at 3:30 a.m. in “excruciating pain.” Machicote continued to have trouble accessing the medication that had been ordered; the prison’s medication distribution schedule did not match Machicote’s prescription. Concerned about pain during the night, Machicote was told: “That’s how it will go.” Machicote’s medication order ran out completely and he began experiencing agonizing pain around the clock. Nurse Stecker refused to contact a doctor. Five days later, Dr. Hoffman prescribed him another painkiller, Tramadol. Machicote did not receive the medication for two more days, and his medical records show that the pain required management for several more weeks.In Machicote’s suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed as to the other defendants but vacated in part; a factual issue remains as to the deliberate indifference of Nurse Stecker. View "Machicote v. Roethlisberger" on Justia Law

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When Zhao gave birth to her son “S.,” he suffered an avoidable brachial plexus injury that severely and permanently impaired the function of his right arm. During her pregnancy and S.’s birth, Zhao was attended by an obstetrician employed by a federally supported grant clinic in southern Illinois, who is considered an employee of the U.S. Public Health Service under 42 U.S.C. 233(g), Zhao sued for medical malpractice under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The court found that the obstetrician had been negligent and awarded Zhao, on behalf of S., $2.6 million in lost earnings and $5.5 million in noneconomic damages. S. was not five years old at the time of trial. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting the government’s argument that the calculation of S.’s future lost earnings was improperly speculative, given the uncertainties inherent in projecting a five‐year‐old’s career opportunities. The question may have been difficult, but there was no reversible error. The court took a reasonable approach to estimate the lost earnings award based on data provided in expert testimony. The government also challenged the award of non-economic damages as arbitrary and excessive in comparison to similar cases. The court could have provided a more detailed explanation of its comparative process, but its reasoning did not amount to reversible error. View "Zhao v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Drug Enforcement Administration investigated Dr. Ley and his opioid addiction treatment company, DORN, conducted undercover surveillance, and decided Ley did not have a legitimate medical purpose in prescribing Suboxone. Indiana courts issued warrants, culminating in arrests of four physicians and one nurse and seven non-provider DORN employees. Indiana courts dismissed the charges against the non-providers and the nurse. Ley was acquitted; the state dismissed the charges against the remaining providers. DORN’s providers and non-provider employees sued, alleging false arrest, malicious prosecution, and civil conspiracy. The district court entered summary judgment for the defendants, holding probable cause supported the warrants at issue. The Seventh Circuit affirmed as to every plaintiff except Mackey, a part-time parking lot attendant. One of Ley’s former patients died and that individual’s family expressed concerns about Ley; other doctors voiced concerns, accusing Ley of prescribing Suboxone for pain to avoid the 100-patient limit and bring in more revenue. At least one pharmacy refused to fill DORN prescriptions. Former patients reported that they received their prescriptions without undergoing any physical exam. DORN physicians prescribed an unusually high amount of Suboxone; two expert doctors opined that the DORN physicians were not prescribing Suboxone for a legitimate medical purpose. There was evidence that the non-provider employees knew of DORN’s use of pre-signed prescriptions and sometimes distributed them. There were, however, no facts alleged in the affidavit that Mackey was ever armed, impeded investigations, handled money, or possessed narcotics. View "Vierk v. Whisenand" on Justia Law

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For four years, nurse practitioner Jordan treated Clanton’s severe hypertension. Jordan, an employee of the U.S. Public Health Service, failed to properly educate Clanton about his disease or to monitor its advancement. Clanton’s hypertension developed into Stage V kidney disease requiring dialysis and a transplant. Clanton successfully sued the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The court determined that Clanton had not contributed at all to his own injuries, noting that Clanton did not understand why it was important to take his medication and to attend appointments. The court awarded $30 million in damages. The Seventh Circuit vacated, finding that the court erred in its analysis of comparative negligence. Clanton’s subjective understanding does not end the inquiry. Illinois law requires the court to take the additional step of comparing Clanton’s understanding of his condition to that of a reasonable person in his situation. Clanton was in the position of a person whose caregiver failed to provide information about the severity of his condition but he had external clues that he was seriously unwell: two employment-related physicals showed that he had dangerously high blood pressure. The court upheld the court’s method of calculating damages and agreed that Clanton’s Medicare benefits are collateral to his damages award under Illinois law, so the government is not entitled to a partial offset. View "Clanton v. United States" on Justia Law

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Illinois requires medical-malpractice plaintiffs to file an affidavit stating that “there is a reasonable and meritorious cause” for litigation. The plaintiff needs a physician’s report, indicating that the physician has reviewed the plaintiff’s medical records and justifying the conclusion that “a reasonable and meritorious cause” exists. This requirement applies to malpractice litigation in federal court because it is a substantive condition of liability. The suit at issue is against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which says that the government is liable to the same extent as a private person, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b)(1). The Seventh Circuit found the rule applicable. The court noted that a prisoner may have insuperable difficulty obtaining a favorable physician’s report before filing a complaint and concluded that a complaint in federal court cannot properly be dismissed because it lacks an affidavit and report under 5/2-622. Federal, not state, rules often apply to procedural matters—such as what ought to be attached to pleadings—in federal suits, whether they arise under federal or state law. In federal court, supporting documents come later. Illinois wants insubstantial medical-malpractice suits resolved swiftly. That goal can be achieved in federal court under summary-judgment practice. View "Young v. United States" on Justia Law