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

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
by
VIM opened its Elkhart wood recycling facility around 2000. By 2009 1,025 neighbors filed a class-action lawsuit, describing VIM’s site as littered with massive, unbounded outdoor waste piles and alleging that VIM processed old, dry wood outside, which violated environmental regulations; constituted an eyesore; attracted mosquitos, termites, and rodents; posed a fire hazard; and emitted dust and other pollution. Many neighbors alleged health problems. In the meantime, VIM acquired general commercial liability policies, running from 2004-2008, that obligated Westfield to pay up to $2 million of any judgments against VIM for “property damage” or “bodily injury.” Each policy required VIM “as soon as practicable” to notify Westfield of any occurrence or offense that “may result in” a claim. Upon the filing of a claim, the policies required that VIM to provide written notice. There were three separate lawsuits over the course of 10 years. VIM sometimes successfully fended off the claims but sometimes did nothing, resulting in a $50.56 million default judgment. In a garnishment action, the Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Westfield. The neighbors cannot credibly claim that VIM was unaware of the injuries before 2004 or that they would not reasonably have expected them to continue through 2008, so the notice requirements applied. Westfield only found out about the case from its own lawyer in 2010, while it was on appeal. View "Greene v. Westfield Insurance Co." on Justia Law

by
At about 2:10 a.m., LeDure reported to a Salem, Illinois rail yard to assemble a train for a trip. While on the exterior walkway of a locomotive in order to tag it, LeDure slipped and fell down its steps. LeDure got up and proceeded to power down and tag the locomotive. He returned to where he fell and, using a flashlight, bent down to identify a “slick” substance. LeDure reported the incident to his supervisor. He gave a written statement. Union Pacific conducted an inspection and reported cleaning a “small amount of oil” on the walkway. LeDure sued Union Pacific for negligence. He alleged violations of the Locomotive Inspection Act and the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, arguing that Union Pacific failed to maintain the walkway free of hazards. The district court dismissed LeDure’s claims with prejudice. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Locomotive Inspection Act is inapplicable since the locomotive was not “in use” during the incident. LeDure’s injuries were not reasonably foreseeable because they resulted from a small “slick spot” unknown to Union Pacific. There is no evidence that an earlier inspection would have cured the hazard. View "LeDure v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law

by
Bryant's Illinois employer had a cafeteria, containing vending machines owned and operated by Compass. The machines did not accept cash; a user had to establish an account using her fingerprint. Fingerprints are “biometric identifiers” under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). In violation of BIPA, Compass never made publicly available a retention schedule and guidelines for permanently destroying the biometric identifiers and information it was collecting; never informed Bryant in writing that her biometric identifier was being collected or stored, of the specific purpose and length of term for which her fingerprint was being collected, stored, and used; nor obtained Bryant’s written release to collect, store, and use her fingerprint. Bryant brought a putative class action in state court; BIPA provides a private right of action to persons “aggrieved” by a violation. Compass removed the action to federal court under the Class Action Fairness Act, 28 U.S.C. 1332(d), on the basis of diversity of citizenship and an amount in controversy exceeding $5 million. Bryant successfully moved to remand the action, claiming that the district court did not have subject-matter jurisdiction because she lacked the concrete injury-in-fact necessary for Article III standing. State law poses no such problem. The district court found that Compass’s alleged violations were bare procedural violations that caused no concrete harm to Bryant. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The failure to follow BIPA leads to an invasion of personal rights that is both concrete and particularized. View "Bryant v. Compass Group U.S.A., Inc." on Justia Law

by
In 2005, a van containing six family members van slipped off the edge of an Illinois roadway. In the ensuing rollover crash, everyone was hurt; one passenger died. The crash occurred in a construction zone; a guardrail had been removed and not replaced. All lines had not been repainted on the repaved road, and pieces of asphalt lay on the shoulder. In a suit against the construction companies, the defense attorney told the plaintiffs that the two companies were operating as a joint venture with a $1 million liability insurance policy. The parties settled for $1 million. Plaintiffs signed a release of all claims that stated the plaintiffs agreed they were not relying on any statements by any parties’ attorneys. Four years later, the plaintiffs discovered that the companies carried separate liability policies. The district court ruled as a matter of law that the failure to identify the individual policies violated FRCP 26; that the undisclosed policies would have covered plaintiffs’ claims; and no joint venture agreement existed under Illinois law, so joint venture exclusions in the individual policies were inapplicable. A jury awarded damages of $8,169,512.84 for negligent misrepresentation. The Seventh Circuit reversed. The district court erred in allowing plaintiffs to rely on a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure for a duty of care; in deciding, before trial, that plaintiffs reasonably relied on the insurance disclosures; and in excluding the defense’s expert testimony on liability and settlement value. View "Turubchuk v. Southern Illinois Asphalt Co., Inc." on Justia Law

by
Fuqua, a mail handler, was forced to transfer to a new location when his Chicago center was downsized. He did not receive placement within 30 miles of his home. He refused to appear for work in Kansas City and was fired. Fuqua alleged his termination caused him emotional distress and made an administrative claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U.S.C. 2671. The Postal Service denied his claim, ruling that his exclusive remedy was through the Department of Labor (DOL) under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA), 5 U.S.C. 8101. Fuqua filed suit for intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress under the FTCA. During a stay in the proceedings, Fuqua corresponded with the DOL alleging he was injured because of defendants’ “extreme and outrageous conduct refusing to allow [him] to become assigned a station closer to [his] residence.” The DOL denied his FECA claim, explaining “[e]motional conditions that arise out of administrative and personnel matters, such as termination of employment are usually covered only if the weight of the evidence supports that the employer acted in an abusive manner or erred.” The district court dismissed Fuqua’s case. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. FECA applied to Fuqua’s claim, its administrative scheme ran its course, and his claim was denied for lack of evidence. The district court had no subject matter jurisdiction over his FTCA claims. Fuqua’s allegation falls within the “transfer, or reassignment” definition of “personnel action.” View "Fuqua v. United States Postal Service" on Justia Law

by
United owns a fleet of ambulances. In 2016, Stofko was driving his car when a United ambulance crashed into it; Stofko’s injuries were fatal. United was insured by Markel but the particular ambulance that crashed was not listed on the policy. Rau, the representative of Stofko’s estate, argued that it was nevertheless covered by the policy because before the crash United sent Markel’s agent, Insurance Service Center, an email requesting that the vehicle be added to the policy. The Center denied seeing the email and United acknowledged that it had not received a response as was customary. Markel argued that even if United had sent an email, it never endorsed the change, which the policy requires, and has no duty to indemnify United or the driver and no duty to defend in Rau’s suit. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Markel. It is not necessary to resolve what happened to the email request to add the vehicle to the policy; under Indiana law courts may not rewrite an insurance contract. Neither Center nor Markel accepted or responded in any way to United’s request, so the ambulance was not covered. View "Markel Insurance Co. v. Rau" on Justia Law

by
In October 2012, Jeske, working at a cemetery, was carrying a heavy casket when she stumbled, injuring her back. Four years later, she applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income based on disability; she claimed that back and spine problems, anxiety, depression, and suicidal tendencies made her unable to work. At a hearing, Jeske told the ALJ that she was 44 years old and lived with her husband and three sons. She changed the date on which she allegedly became disabled to more than a year after her injury because she had substantial gainful activity in 2013. She explained that she received treatment through a workers’ compensation program and her employer allowed her to work from home many days. When the doctor released her from treatment, Jeske’s boss no longer permitted her to work from home and she quit. Since then she has worked as a part-time security guard. The ALJ found Jeske not disabled under the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 423(d), 1382c(3). The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The ALJ applied the proper standards and sufficiently explained the decision. Although the evidence showed Jeske suffered from limiting back pain, abundant evidence supports the ALJ’s determination that her condition lacked the requirements of a presumptively disabling impairment. The use of daily-living activities, to assess credibility and symptoms, was not improper. The evidence supported a conclusion that Jeske could perform light work with specific restrictions. View "Jeske v. Saul" on Justia Law

by
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

by
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

by
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