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

Articles Posted in Personal Injury

by
Donald and Mary Timm sustained serious injuries in a horrific motorcycle accident. A few months later, they received notice that the helmets they were wearing at the time of the accident were recalled. Believing defects with the motorcycle and its rear tire caused the accident—and that their injuries were especially severe because of a defect with their helmets—the Timms brought a products liability action under Indiana law against defendants involved in the sale and manufacture of the motorcycle, its rear tire, and the helmets. Concluding that the Timms failed to present admissible expert testimony to support their claims, the district court entered summary judgment for the defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Timms did not present any expert testimony to show that, because of a defect with their helmets, their injuries were worse than they otherwise would have experienced in such a severe motorcycle crash. The court rejected the Timms’ claims alleging negligent recall and failure to comply with federal safety standards, concluding that the Indiana Products Liability Act permits neither claim. The court properly excluded expert testimony against Harley-Davidson and Goodyear as lacking the reliability required by Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and “Daubert.” View "Timm v. Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America, Ltd." on Justia Law

by
Guerrero was trying to drive to his job at BNSF Railway through a snowstorm early one morning. His car skidded, collided with a snowplow, and he was killed. His widow sought compensatory damages from BNSF under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA, 45 U.S.C. 51–59). The district court ruled in favor of BNSF. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Stating that the question of whether Guerrero was within the scope of his employment when the accident occurred was a close one, the court declined to resolve the issue. Guerrero was not heading to his normal job, but had accepted a special assignment; his union contract provides that “the time of an employee who is called after release from duty to report for work will begin at the time called.” Looking at the evidence favorably to Guerrero, he was not commuting, but was “on the clock” and working on the special assignment. No jury, however, could find that BNSF was negligent in any action it took or failed to take with respect to Guerrero. FELA does not make the employer the insurer of the safety of his employees while they are on duty. The only action BNSF took was to ask Guerrero to come to work under conditions known to both parties. View "Guerrero v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law

by
Clark was badly injured as he was getting off a car-crushing machine--a mobile RB6000 Logger/Baler--which was used by his employer, Thornton Auto Crushing. He sued both the crusher’s manufacturer, Sierra, and the company that had leased it to Thornton, River Metals, asserting that they were liable to him under Illinois tort law because it was defectively designed. The district court granted summary judgment in both defendants’ favor after striking the testimony from Clark’s expert. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court’s decision to exclude the testimony represented a reasonable assessment of the proposed evidence. It found the expert’s methodology to be unclear and conclusory. There was no need for a hearing; the report was just five pages long, including the expert’s discussion of the facts, his description of the machine, and his recitation of the Operator’s Manual. His analysis covers one page and misstates a standard concerning equipment safeguards. The case was not one that could be decided based on common experience. View "Clark v. River Metals Recycling, LLC" on Justia Law

by
McCarty and Parks went to an Illinois Menard’s store to purchase sheets of oriented strand board (OSB). They drove a pickup truck to the store’s lumber shed and found the OSB piles, stacked side-by-side, behind display signs. The display sign at issue was knee high with protruding wooden legs. McCarty moved some top boards from a central OSB pile over to a right side adjacent pile while searching for undamaged boards. Parks did the same on the left side. After McCarty moved a few boards, he tripped over a piece of wood that was part of the display sign in front of the right‐hand pile. The display sign was normally set flush against the stacks, as were the other signs. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of McCarty’s injury suit. The open and obvious doctrine applies when “[t]he open and obvious nature of the condition itself gives caution and therefore the risk of harm is considered slight; people are expected to appreciate and avoid obvious risks.” The only reasonable conclusion is that McCarty saw the protruding sign while standing in front of it. A reasonable person with McCarty’s knowledge of the situation would have appreciated and avoided the hazardous condition. View "McCarty v. Menard, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury

by
Webber, who was not a professional logger, was cutting down a tree on property owned by his friend, Butner, when a branch fell and hit Webber on the head, causing severe injuries. Webber sued for negligence, alleging that Butner, as the property's owner, had a duty to take reasonable steps to protect Webber’s safety and that Butner assumed a specific duty to Webber when he agreed to look out for hazards and failed to warn Butner of the falling branch. At trial, the court admitted evidence that Webber was not wearing a hardhat while cutting the tree and instructed the jury that the evidence could not support a defense of failure to mitigate damages but could show assumption of risk and comparative fault and whether Webber acted as a reasonably careful person. The jury apportioned 51% of the fault to Webber and 49% to Butner. Under Indiana’s modified comparative fault statute, Webber recovered nothing. The Seventh Circuit ordered a new trial. In determining fault, Indiana law bars admission of evidence that an injured plaintiff was not using safety equipment unless the failure to use the equipment contributed to causing the injury. The fact that Webber was not wearing a hardhat did not cause the branch to fall and hit him on the head. The admission of this evidence and the jury instruction were errors that were not harmless because the jury decided on a “razor‐thin split.” View "Webber v. Butner" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury

by
SC, an outpatient surgical center, permits outside physicians to perform day surgery at its facility. Its insurance limited APA’s liability to $1 million per claim. In 2002, Dr. Hasson, an outside physician, performed outpatient laparoscopic surgery on Tate at SC. Hasson did not see Tate or sign her discharge instructions before SC released her; SC’s anesthesiologist discharged Tate, giving Tate's boyfriend discharge instructions. Days later, Tate checked into the hospital with a perforated bowel that rendered the previously-healthy 34‐year‐old a quadriplegic. Tate sued Hasson and SC. APA hired attorneys to defend SC. APA set the “Reserve” (money the Michigan Department of Insurance required APA to put aside to cover an adverse verdict) at $560,000. APA believed the damages could exceed the policy limit but that SC was not likely to be found liable. In 2007, APA rejected Tate's offer to settle for policy limits. Hasson’s insurer settled for his policy limit ($1 million). After the Illinois Appellate Court remanded the issue of whether SC’s nursing staff breached the standard of care, APA raised the Reserve to $1 million, stating that it still believed the case was defensible. Before the second trial, APA rejected Tate's second settlement demand for the policy limit. The jury returned a $5.17 million verdict. SC then sued APA for bad faith. The Seventh Circuit affirmed judgment as a matter of law in favor of APA. SC did not establish that anyone involved in litigating the case believed there was more than a mere possibility SC would be found liable; the mere possibility of liability is insufficient under the Illinois Supreme Court’s reasonable probability standard. View "Surgery Center at 900 North Michigan Avenue, LLC v. American Physicians Assurance Corp., Inc." on Justia Law

by
Williams, age 17, was struck by a train while he and his friends were running away from a police officer. He sued the railway. The district court held, on summary judgment, that Williams was barred from recovery by Indiana law because he was more than 50% at fault for the accident. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Indiana Comparative Fault Act bars recovery in actions based on fault if the claimant’s fault exceeds 50% of the total fault, IND. CODE 34-51-2. No fact-finder could reasonably conclude that Williams bore 50% or less of the relative fault. Video evidence plainly shows that the train’s horn and bells were sounding and that its lights were on. The gate was down, with lights that faced the young men, and those lights were flashing. View "Williams v. Norfolk Southern Corp." on Justia Law

by
Courtney had a CT scan performed at CDI’ diagnostic imaging facility. The radiologist, Webster, an independent contractor hired by MSC, missed Courtney’s rectal cancer. Courtney's cancer festered for over a year before being diagnosed, having metastasized to her lungs and liver. CDI claimed that it could not be held liable because CDI did not directly employ Webster. The district court rejected this argument and applied Indiana’s apparent agency precedent, which instructs that a medical provider is liable if a patient reasonably relied on its apparent authority over the wrongdoer. The jury returned a $15 million verdict. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, first explaining that CDI had not registered under Indiana’s Medical Malpractice Act, which limits liability for registered qualified health care providers and requires the presentation of a proposed complaint to a medical review panel before an action is commenced in court. MSC and Walker had registered as qualified health care providers, so the Websters had filed a complaint against them with the Indiana Department of Insurance. Courtney testified that she had no idea about the contractual relationships among MSC, CDI, and Dr. Walker and she was never provided information that the physician who would be interpreting her CT scan was not subject to CDI’s control or supervision. View "Webster v. CDI Indiana, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Ruark was working for Union Pacific, using a hydraulic rail drill. Ruark was involved connecting the drill to the hydraulic lines and used the machine to drill several holes without noticing any leaking fluid or other malfunction. As he drilled the last hole, Ruark reached down to turn the drill off. Hot fluid sprayed over him, including in his eyes. Ruark declined medical attention. The supervisor sent him home to clean up. Ruark returned the following day, but did not do much work, because, he claims, “it hurt too bad.” Ruark saw his regular nurse practitioner the next day, for “sinus and stomach problems.” Ruark did not return to work because he was convicted of a felony unrelated to the accident. Ruark sued under the Federal Employers Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. 51-60. Ruark’s prison sentence interrupted his trial preparation. The judge denied a motion for a continuance because the case had been pending for almost three years, Ruark had been well represented by his initial counsel, and Ruark's incarceration did not justify reopening exhausted deadlines and allowing Ruark to begin discovery anew. The judge allowed Ruark’s trial testimony by video deposition and deposition of Ruark’s treating physician. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of Ruark’s theory of negligence based on res ipsa loquitur. That doctrine requires that the defendant was in control of the instrumentality that caused the injury and that the plaintiff was not also negligent; those conditions were not met. A jury could not assume that “the matter spoke for itself.” The court did not abuse its discretion by refusing to grant a continuance. View "Ruark v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law

by
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