Articles Posted in Personal Injury

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Kopplin, a former train conductor, brought claims of negligence and negligence per se against the Wisconsin Central railroad under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. 51, alleging that Kopplin injured his elbow in trying to operate a broken railroad switch on January 24, 2014. The district court granted the railroad summary judgment because Kopplin could not prove that the broken switch caused his injury. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. A video of the incident shows no immediate signs of injury and Kopplin never mentioned any pain to his coworkers until two hours later. He had continued to perform other physical tasks. Kopplin’s sole causation expert conceded, in a deposition, that he knew so little about Kopplin’s job that it would be mere speculation to say throwing a switch even could cause the elbow injury and that he did not investigate whether Kopplin’s other physical activities could have caused his renewed elbow problems. That expert later provided an affidavit in which he definitively stated that the January 24 incident caused the elbow injury, explaining that the nature of the injury was so clear that there was no need to even consider other potential causes. The judge refused to consider the affidavit because it contradicted sworn deposition testimony. View "Kopplin v. Wisconsin Central Limited" on Justia Law

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Bard manufactures a surgical patch, consisting of two pieces of mesh that surround a flexible plastic ring. During a hernia repair, the patch is folded to fit through a small incision, then the plastic ring springs back into its original shape and flattens the mesh against the abdominal wall. Bard recalled several versions of the patch in 2005-2006 following reports that the plastic ring was defective. Sometimes the ring broke, exposing a sharp edge that could perforate the patient’s intestines. Other times the ring caused the patch to bend and warp, exposing the patch’s adhesive to a patient’s viscera. Before the recall, Bowersock underwent hernia repair surgery, involving a Bard patch. Roughly one year later, she died of complications arising from an abdominal-wall abscess. Her estate sued. Unlike defective patches in other injured patients, Bowersock’s patch did not adhere to her bowel or perforate her organs. Plaintiff's expert tried to present a new theory of causation: the patch had “buckled,” forming a stiff edge that rubbed against and imperceptibly perforated her internal organs. The court excluded that testimony, finding the “buckling” theory not sufficiently reliable. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defense. The novel theory of causation was not peer-reviewed, professionally presented, consistent with Bowersock’s medical records or autopsy, or substantiated by other cases. View "Robinson v. Davol, Inc." on Justia Law

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Ross worked as a coal miner for approximately 30 years. He smoked cigarettes for almost as long but was able to quit after his first heart attack. Ross continued to work as a coal miner even though he suffered another heart attack and had difficulty breathing at work. Approximately six years after Ross stopped working in the coal mines, his breathing problems became severe. In 2012, Ross sought benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. 901. The Department of Labor’s Benefits Review Board vacated a denial. On remand, the ALJ granted Ross’s claim. The Board affirmed. The Seventh Circuit enforced the decision. Rejecting a due process argument, the court noted the employer had the opportunity to argue its case twice before the ALJ and twice before the Board, including the chance to submit supplemental medical opinion evidence. A theory that something must be amiss because the ALJ changed his mind on remand is particularly unpersuasive here because the parties submitted five additional medical opinions after the Board’s second decision. Ross proved by a preponderance of the evidence that he was totally disabled. View "Consolidation Coal Co. v. Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, United States Department of Labor" on Justia Law

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In 2002, in Texas, Dr. Phillips performed a laparoscopic hysterectomy on Bramlett, a 36-year-old mother. While hospitalized, Bramlett suffered internal bleeding and died. Her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital and Dr. Phillips, who held a $200,000 professional liability insurance policy with MedPro. He notified MedPro of the lawsuit. In 2003, the hospital settled with the Bramletts for approximately $2.3 million. The Bramletts wrote to Dr. Phillips’s attorney, Davidson, with a $200,000 Stowers demand; under Texas law, if an insurer rejects a plaintiff's demand that is within the insured’s policy limit and that a reasonably prudent insurer would accept, the insurer will later be liable for any amount awarded over the policy limit. MedPro twice refused to settle. The family won a $14 million verdict. The Supreme Court of Texas capped Dr. Phillips’s liability. The family sued MedPro, which settled. MedPro was insured by AISLIC, which declined to cover MedPro’s settlement. The district court granted AISLIC summary judgment, concluding that coverage was excluded because MedPro should have foreseen the family’s claim. An exclusion precluded coverage for “any claim arising out of any Wrongful Act” which occurred prior to June 30, 2005, if before that date MedPro “knew or could have reasonably foreseen that such Wrongful Act could lead to a claim.” The Seventh Circuit reversed in part, finding genuine issues of material fact regarding whether MedPro’s failure to settle was a Wrongful Act and whether MedPro could have foreseen a "claim" before the malpractice trial. View "Medical Protective Co. of Fort Wayne, Indiana v. American International Specialty Lines Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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A forklift backed over Hutchison’s foot while it was loading his tractor‐trailer. Hutchison’s employer, Borkholder, who owned the forklift, had contracted with Fitzgerald to provide maintenance on the forklift. Hutchison sued Fitzgerald, alleging that Fitzgerald was negligent in failing to warn Borkholder to install a backup alarm and was liable in concert with Borkholder for failing to install such an alarm. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Fitzgerald. OSHA regulations did not require backup alarms on forklifts at the time of the accident; Borkholder, as the owner, was responsible for deciding whether to install a backup alarm. The duty to warn does not encompass a duty to recommend optional safety features to an owner who already knows about them. Hutchison has no evidence of unequal knowledge between Fitzgerald and Borkholder giving rise to a duty to warn. Even if Hutchison had established a voluntary undertaking, he has not established a breach; the mere knowledge of a risk does not impose an affirmative duty. Hutchison has not shown Fitzgerald increased the risk by failing to recommend the installation of a device that was not required nor requested, that was already known to Borkholder. Hutchison has no evidence that he relied to his detriment on Fitzgerald to recommend that Borkholder install a backup alarm. There is no plausible inference that Fitzgerald substantially assisted Borkholder in breaching a duty to Hutchison View "Hutchison v. Fitzgerald Equipment Co." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury

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Betzner filed suit in Madison County, Illinois alleging that during Betzner’s employment, he was exposed to asbestos fibers, which caused his mesothelioma and that defendants, including Boeing, manufactured these products. Boeing filed a notice of removal, alleging that Betzner’s deposition and affidavit show the negligence claims arise from his work in Dallas, where Betzner was involved in the assembly of Boeing B-1 and B-1B Lancer bomber aircraft for the Air Force in 1982-1987. Boeing asserts that the government controlled the design and development of the aircraft and required adherence to its detailed specifications. Betzner did not move for remand or challenge the factual allegations in the notice of removal. The district court, sua sponte, remanded the case concluding that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction due to Boeing’s failure to provide evidentiary support for its government contractor defense and explaining it was “not required to take Boeing’s allegations at face value.” The Seventh Circuit reversed. Boeing alleged sufficient facts to support federal officer removal under 28 U.S.C. 1442(a). Boeing’s plausible allegations include that when designing, manufacturing, supplying, testing, and repairing the aircraft it acted as a government contractor under the detailed and ongoing direction and control of the U.S. military, which required adherence to precise specifications. Boeing alleged the aircraft it manufactured conformed to those specifications and the government was independently aware of the potential health hazards related to asbestos exposure. View "Betzner v. Boeing Co." on Justia Law

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Allstate investigated suspicious trading on its equity desk and unearthed email evidence that portfolio managers might be timing trades to inflate their bonuses at the expense of portfolios, including pension funds to which Allstate owed fiduciary duties. Allstate retained attorneys, who hired consultants to calculate potential losses. Because actual losses could not be established, the consultants used an algorithm to estimate a potential adverse impact of $91 million. Allstate poured $91 million into the portfolios. Allstate determined that four portfolio managers had violated company policy and fired them. Allstate's 2009 Form 10-K explained these events and an internal memo described the same information. Neither document mentioned the fired portfolio managers. The former employees sued, alleging defamation based on those documents and alleged that Allstate violated 15 U.S.C. 1681a(y)(2), the Fair Credit Reporting Act, by failing to give them a summary of the attorneys' findings after they were fired. A jury awarded more than $27 million in damages. The judge added punitive damages and attorney’s fees under the Act. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The 10-K and internal memo were not defamatory per se and are actionable (if at all) only on a theory of defamation per quod, which requires proof of special damages causally connected to the publication. The plaintiffs testified that they could not find comparable work after being fired, but presented no evidence that any prospective employer declined to hire them as a consequence of Allstate’s statements in the documents. The four lacked standing for the FCRA claims. View "Rivera v. Allstate Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Lake County, Indiana, Sheriff's Department (LCSD) Deputy Orlich, in uniform, and carrying a gun, responded to Zander’s husband’s call, reporting a domestic disturbance. Arriving at the scene, Orlich ordered Zander to leave the home and go to her other house on White Oak Avenue. Zander stated that she could not go there because the electric panel had been dismantled. Orlich's supervisor gave Orlich permission to take Zander to White Oak Avenue, where Orlich turned on the electricity. Orlich told Zander that she could not return to the other house for several hours. About 10-15 minutes after Orlich left, Zander found Orlich standing naked in the house. He attacked Zander sexually and said that he could make Zander’s life difficult if she reported him. Zander filed negligence claims against the Sheriff and intentional tort and civil rights claims against Orlich. The district court granted the Sheriff summary judgment on Zander’s respondeat superior claim and on Zander’s negligent hiring, training, and retention claim because Zander presented no evidence that Buncich knew of the necessity of exerting control to prevent Orlich's sexual misconduct. On Zander’s claims against Orlich, a jury awarded $100,000 in compensatory damages, $275,000 in punitive damages, and attorneys fees and costs totaling $97,267.80. The Seventh Circuit reversed as to Zander’s respondeat superior claim and affirmed as to the negligent hiring claim. Orlich exploited “unique institutional prerogatives of his police employment.” Whether Orlich’s employment gave rise to the abuse of that power is a question of fact for the jury. View "Zander v. Orlich" on Justia Law

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Krier operates a Wisconsin trail-riding facility. Dilley reserved a ride, informing Krier that she had no horseback-riding experience. Dilley was matched with Blue, Krier’s most docile horse. Dilley received no instruction from Krier or his employee, Kremsreiter; neither adjusted the stirrups nor provided a helmet. Kremsreiter rode in front of Dilley. During the ride, Dilley stated that she did not have the reins. Kremsreiter responded, “Don’t worry; this horse knows where it wants [to] go,” and never looked back. Blue attempted to pass Kremsreiter’s horse, which kicked, prompting Blue to rear up. Dilley fell, sustaining a head injury, fractured ribs and vertebra, and a punctured lung. The judge granted the defendants summary judgment. Wisconsin law confers immunity on the sponsors and participants in equine activities for injuries that result from “an inherent risk of equine activities,” including any participant’s negligence. Brown took a riding lesson at a Wisconsin indoor facility, using her own horse. The instructor allowed a second horse and rider to enter the arena, knowing that the second horse was “high spirited” and required a very experienced rider. The instructor directed the rider of the second horse to jump a fence. The horse sped off, leaping out of control, and collided with Brown’s horse. Brown was thrown and sustained leg fractures. Her case was dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed both defense judgments. Dilley’s claims fail because a trail operator’s negligence is an “inherent risk of equine activities” under the statute; no exception applies. The operators reasonably assessed Dilley’s abilities; they did not act in willful or wanton disregard for her safety; the tack they provided was not faulty. Because Brown rode her own horse, an exception that applies when the defendant provides a horse is unavailable. View "Dilley v. Holiday Acres Properties, Inc." on Justia Law

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More than 20 current and former employees at ConAgra’s Rensselaer, Indiana microwave popcorn plant sued various manufacturers and suppliers of butter flavorings that contained the chemical diacetyl, which if inhaled can cause a respiratory disease called “popcorn lung.” All defendants were dismissed except Givaudan. a long‐time supplier to the plant, which faced claims under Indiana product liability law for strict liability, failure to warn, negligence, and design defect. The district court granted Givaudan summary judgment in full. The Seventh Circuit affirmed as to most of the claims but remanded the claim that Givaudan failed to warn plaintiffs that its products contained a dangerous substance. Whether an exception to that duty to warn—the sophisticated intermediary doctrine— applies to the employer ConAgra and exonerates Givaudan is a fact question. View "Aregood v. Givaudan Flavors Corp." on Justia Law