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

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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Bentley, the owner of Trucking, rear-ended the Kolchinskys’ car while driving a tractor-trailer through Illinois. The Kolchinskys were severely injured. Bentley's deliveries had been arranged by WD, which instructed Bentley to transport milk from Indiana to its destination. His route was up to him. Trucking’s agreement with WD provided that Bentley was an independent contractor. When Trucking accepted a job from WD, it agreed to call the broker daily with a status update, protect the freight, notify the broker of any damage, and inform the broker of delivery. Tucking was responsible for determining delivery times; WD reserved the right to withhold any resulting damages. The agreement required Trucking to pay its employees and provide and maintain its own tractor, fuel, insurance, licenses, and permits. The Kolchinskys sued Bentley; citing theories of respondeat superior and vicarious liability, the Kolchinskys also sued Trucking and WD The judge granted the defendants judgment, concluding that the driver was an independent contractor so the Kolchinskys could not hold the companies responsible for his alleged negligence. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Courts applying Illinois law consistently have declined to find an agency relationship when a company hires an independent driver to deliver a load to designated persons at designated hours but does not reserve the right to control the manner of delivery. WD had no part in the transaction leading to Bentley’s fateful trip View "Kolchinsky v. Western Dairy Transport, LLC" on Justia Law

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Elston and his friends were playing basketball at a DuPage County park, heckling one another with salty language. Demeter, an off-duty Kane County sheriff’s deputy, watching his child’s soccer game, demanded that they stop using expletives. Demeter flashed his badge and gun. The boys refused to clean up their language. Demeter grabbed Elston by the neck, threw him to the ground, and climbed on top of him. Bystanders separated the two. Demeter called 911, identifying himself as a police officer in need of assistance. Demeter told Elston’s father that he was a police officer attempting to take Elston into custody for disorderly conduct. Elston was never charged with any offense. Demeter pleaded guilty to violating Aurora’s ordinance against battery. Elston sued Demeter under 42 U.S.C. 1983, winning a default judgment and an award of $110,000. Elston also sued Kane County under Illinois’s Tort Immunity Act. The district court rejected the suit on summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Demeter was acting as a private citizen, not within the scope of his duties as a deputy when he injured Elston. Demeter was not acting substantially within the time and space limits authorized by his employment; that Demeter used his badge, gun, and training in an unauthorized manner in q purely personal pursuit does not bring his conduct within the scope of his employment. View "Elston v. County of Kane" on Justia Law

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Kaiser had surgery to implant the Prolift Anterior Pelvic Floor Repair System, a transvaginal mesh medical device that supports the pelvic muscles. A few years later, Kaiser began experiencing severe pelvic pain, bladder spasms, and pain during intercourse. Her physician attributed these conditions to contractions in the mesh. Kaiser had surgery to remove the device, but her surgeon could not completely extract it and informed her that the complications she was experiencing were likely permanent. Kaiser sued Ethicon, Prolift’s manufacturer, under the Indiana Products Liability Act. A jury found Ethicon liable for defectively designing the Prolift device and failing to adequately warn about its complications and awarded $10 million in compensatory damages; the judge reduced a punitive award to $10 million. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Ethicon’s claim of federal preemption. The requirements of the FDA’s premarket-notification process do not directly conflict with Indiana law. A reasonable jury could conclude that Prolift was unreasonably dangerous and could credit the physician’s assertion that additional warnings about complications would have led him to choose a different treatment plan. The court rejected challenges to the damages and to jury instructions. Seventh Circuit precedent interprets the Indiana Product Liability Act to require a plaintiff in a design-defect case to produce evidence of a reasonable alternative design for the product but the Indiana Supreme Court disagreed in 2010. The state supreme court’s decision controls on a matter of state law. View "Kaiser v. Johnson & Johnson and Ethicon, Inc." on Justia Law

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While shopping at a Wal-Mart store, Waldon believes she slipped on a plastic hanger and fell causing her injuries. Under Indiana premises-liability law, a defendant must have actual or constructive knowledge of a condition on the premises that involves an unreasonable risk of harm to an invitee. Wal-Mart offered the testimony of employees that they had not been aware of a dangerous condition. After discovery, the district court concluded there was no evidence Wal-Mart knew of such a condition and granted it summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed and, because Waldons’ counsel had deleted date stamps on photographs submitted to the court, ordered counsel to show cause why he should not be sanctioned under Rule 46 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure for misrepresenting the record to the court. View "Waldon v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc." on Justia Law

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Amling began working in the horticulture industry in 1965 and continued in that career for the rest of his working life. At one point, Robert worked for National Greenhouse, whose products allegedly contained asbestos. National’s assets and liabilities were transferred to Harrow. In 1990, Harrow executed an asset‐purchase agreement with Nexus, transferring all of National’s assets and some of its liabilities to Nexus. Amling was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2015. The Amlings sued Harrow, Nexus, and others in state court and, while that case was stayed, sought a declaratory judgment in federal court that under the terms of the 1990 agreement, Harrow, not Nexus or any other entity, is liable for National Greenhouse’s torts alleged in the Amlings’ state complaint. The district court dismissed the suit. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. It is virtually certain that the state suit will answer the question presented by the federal suit: whether under the terms of the asset‐purchase agreement Harrow or Nexus could be liable for their injuries. That fact makes this a live controversy but simultaneously justifies the district court’s sound exercise of its discretion in deciding not to issue a declaratory judgment. View "Amling v. Harrow Industries, LLC" 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

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Rapper Jayceon Taylor, also called “The Game,” starred in a VH1 television show called She’s Got Game. While filming in Chicago in 2015, Taylor took contestant Rainey on an off-camera date at a bar. Taylor sexually assaulted her by repeatedly lifting her skirt, grabbing her bare buttocks and vagina, and “juggling” her breasts in front of a large crowd as Rainey tried to break away. Rainey sued Taylor for sexual battery. Taylor evaded process, trolled Rainey on social media, dodged a settlement conference, and did not appear at trial. The judge denied his attorney's request for a continuance, dismissing Taylor’s proffered “dental emergency” excuse as an elaborate ruse. The judge instructed the jurors that they could infer from Taylor’s absence that his testimony would have been unfavorable to him. The jury awarded Rainey $1.13 million in compensatory damages and $6 million in punitive damages. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. District judges have wide discretion to manage their proceedings and resolve evidentiary issues. The rulings at issue lie well within that discretion. “Taylor has only himself to blame for the missing-witness instruction, which was plainly justified.” The verdict is well supported by the evidence; the compensatory award is not excessive under Illinois law, and the punitive award survives constitutional scrutiny. View "Rainey v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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The Railroad sent Abernathy and Probus to repair a railroad crossing, which required them to transport ties several miles. The Railroad had a “tie crane,” which runs on the railroad tracks but it had been inoperable for years. The employees had two options: a backhoe or a pickup truck, traveling on public roads. Abernathy drove the backhoe. Probus drove the pickup, with the tools. Two ties fell out of the backhoe’s bucket. Abernathy stopped to lift the ties back into the bucket, injuring his back and smashing a finger. Despite the accident, the men finished the job. The following morning, Abernathy reported the injury. Abernathy worked through the pain on lighter duty for a year but was unable to return to his regular work. The Railroad terminated his employment. He had physical therapy, epidural injections, and surgery but continued to experience pain. At the time of trial, his surgeon had not cleared him for any type of work. Abernathy sued under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, 45 U.S.C 51. A jury found that Abernathy was 30 percent at fault and awarded a net amount, $525,000. The court awarded Abernathy prevailing party costs but declined to award witness fees above the statutory amount. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The jury could reasonably find that the Railroad did not provide Abernathy with appropriate equipment and that his working environment was not reasonably safe; a reasonable person in the Railroad’s position could have foreseen that transporting ties in a backhoe or pickup could lead to injury. There was sufficient evidence that the Railroad’s negligence played a part in causing Abernathy’s injury. View "Abernathy v. Eastern Illinois Railroad Co." on Justia Law

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Biomet employed Yeatts in a role that included implementing compliance policies. In 2008, Biomet terminated its Brazilian distributor Prosintese, run by Galindo, after learning that Galindo had bribed healthcare providers, in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 78dd-1. Prosintese still owned Brazilian registrations for Biomet’s products. Biomet could not quickly obtain new registrations, and, in 2009, agreed to cooperate with Prosintese and Galindo “to implement the new Biomet distributors.” A distributor that replaced Prosintese hired Galindo as a consultant. Yeatts communicated with Galindo in that new role. Biomet entered into a 2012 Deferred Prosecution Agreement with the Department of Justice, which required that Biomet engage an independent corporate compliance monitor. In 2013, Biomet received an anonymous whistleblower tip that Biomet continued to work with Galindo. Biomet informed the DOJ and the Monitor, terminated Yeatts, and included Yeatts on a Restricted Parties List. Biomet entered a second DOJ agreement that references Yeatts’s interactions with Galindo and paid a criminal penalty of $17.4 million. In Yeatts's defamation suit, the court granted Biomet summary judgment because Biomet’s statement that Yeatts posed a compliance risk was an opinion that could not be proven false and presented no defamatory imputation. Yeatts could not establish that Biomet made the statement with malice, so Biomet was protected by the qualified privilege of common interest and the public interest privilege. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, agreeing that inclusion of Yeatts on the Restricted Parties List conveyed no defamatory imputation of objectively verifiable or testable fact. View "Yeatts v. Zimmer Biomet Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law