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

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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All Seasons inspected SparrowHawk's warehouse roofs and discovered hail damage. Because All Seasons did not hold an Illinois roofing license, it arranged for Prate to serve as general contractor with All Seasons as subcontractor. All Seasons was to provide materials and labor, maintain safety, and supervise the project. All Seasons purchased a commercial general liability policy and general liability extension endorsement from United, listing Prate as an “additional insured” in a “vicarious liability endorsement.” All Seasons then subcontracted with Century. Ayala, a Century employee was working on a SparrowHawk warehouse when he fell to his death.The Illinois workers’ compensation system provided limited death benefits but precluded tort remedies against his direct employer, Century. Ayala’s estate sued Prate, All Seasons, and SparrowHawk. Prate tendered the defense to United, which declined to defend and sought a declaratory judgment. All Seasons and United reached a settlement with the estate, paying the policy limits.The district court granted Prate summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting United’s argument that because its named insured was an independent contractor, Illinois law would not impose any liability on the additional insured and there was no risk of covered liability. The duty to defend depends on the claims the plaintiff asserts, not on their prospects for success. The settlement of the underlying claims against the named insured, however, removed any possibility that the additional insured might be held vicariously liable for actions of the named insured; the duty to defend ended when that settlement was consummated. View "United Fire & Casualty Co. v. Prate Roofing & Installations LLC" on Justia Law

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Deerfield. the general contractor, subcontracted with P.S. Demolition, which agreed to indemnify and hold Deerfield harmless from all claims caused in whole or in part by P.S. P.S. employees were working at the site when an unsecured capstone fell, killing one and injuring another. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act limited P.S.’s liability to $5,993.91 and $25,229.15. The state court held that P.S. had waived the Kotecki cap that would ordinarily apply those limits to a third party (Deerfield) suing for contribution for its pro-rata share of common liability for a workplace injury. A bankruptcy court determined that P.S. had no assets; the state court determined that P.S.’s liability was limited to its available insurance coverage. Deerfield settled with the plaintiffs for substantially more than $75,000 plus an assignment of Deerfield’s contribution claim against P.S.StarNet, P.S.’s employer liability insurer, entered into a settlement with the plaintiffs, reserving its defenses to insurance coverage. The plaintiffs dismissed their negligence claims against P.S. The workers’ compensation and employers' liability policy issued to P.S. provides that StarNet will pay damages for which P.S. is liable to indemnify third parties, excluding “liability assumed under a contract, including any agreement to waive your right to limit your liability for contribution to the amount of benefits payable under the Workers Compensation Act ... This exclusion does not apply to a warranty that your work will be done in a workmanlike manner.The Seventh Circuit affirmed a declaratory judgment that StarNet owes P.S. no coverage for the employees’ injuries beyond the amounts specified by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act and the Kotecki cap. The court rejected arguments that P.S.’s liability in the personal injury action arose in part from P.S.’s failure to conduct the demolition in a workmanlike manner so that the exception applies. View "StarNet Insurance Co. v. Ruprecht" on Justia Law

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Five South Bend officers were assigned to an area of the city that was considered to be a “hot spot.” One drove a fully marked police vehicle. Two officers patrolled in an unmarked car without sirens or lights; two sat in an unmarked car that had sirens and lights. Around 4:30 am, the patrolling car radioed over the tactical channel that they planned to stop a speeding car. The remaining officers promptly acknowledged the report but did not indicate that the traffic stop was an emergency, nor did they request assistance from other officers.After hearing the exchanges, knowing that no one was requesting assistance, Gorny (two miles away) roared through a residential neighborhood at 78 miles per hour, disregarding the 30 mph speed limit, with infrequent use of lights or sirens. On Western Avenue, he accelerated up to 98 mph and reached the Kaley Avenue intersection with an obstructed view. Disregarding the red light, Gorny sped across and crashed into Flores’s car, killing her.The district court dismissed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 substantive due process action. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Flores’s allegations plausibly state claims against Gorny and the city. The law does not provide a shield against constitutional violations for state actors who consciously take extreme, obvious risks. Flores’s complaint plausibly alleges that the city acted with deliberate indifference by failing to address the known recklessness of its officers as a group and Gorny in particular. View "Flores v. City of South Bend" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, who grew up in Milwaukee homes that had lead-based wall paint, were diagnosed with lead poisoning as children in the 1990s or early 2000s. Years later, they sued manufacturers of white lead carbonate; they identified the paint pigment in their childhood homes as white lead carbonate, but could not identify the specific company responsible for manufacturing the white lead carbonate that they ingested. They relied on “Thomas,” in which the Wisconsin Supreme Court adopted a “risk-contribution” theory of liability for plaintiffs suing manufacturers of white lead carbonate. That theory modifies the ordinary rule in tort law that a plaintiff must prove that a specific defendant’s conduct caused his injury and instead apportions liability among the “pool of defendants” who could have caused the injury. A jury found three manufacturers liable and awarded the plaintiffs $2 million each.The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that the district court committed three significant errors about the scope of Wisconsin products liability law, impermissibly expanding the defendants’ potential liability and a separate error in the admission of expert testimony. The court improperly extended Thomas, allowing jurors to find the defendants liable in their capacity as paint manufacturers, rather than white lead carbonate manufacturers, erroneously allowed jurors to find Sherwin-Williams liable on negligence claims without proof of a product defect, and erroneously allowed jurors to find two defendants liable on strict liability claims in the absence of a duty to warn or any proof that the lack of a warning caused the plaintiffs’ injuries. View "Burton v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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Sterling purchased the Loader new in 2008 from a dealership; it was equipped with a 62-inch bucket and components that increased the Loader’s rated operating capacity (ROC—maximum load) to 1,420 lbs. Kirk regularly used the Loader to scoop up material and move it up a concrete ramp with an approximate 30-degree incline. Kirk claims that on May 12, 2015, while going up the ramp, the Loader began to wobble and tip forward as he raised its lift arms. In an effort to stabilize himself, Kirk braced his foot on the console. His foot slipped out of the cab and he brought the lift-arm down on it. Kirk suffered a permanent leg disability, loss of his job, and medical expenses totaling $433,000.In a strict liability claim against the Loader’s manufacturer, Clark, Kirk’s only expert witness, Pacheco, opined that the Loader was “unreasonably dangerous for its intended and foreseeable use” and that its “design providing for the use of the [62-inch] bucket … made it highly likely" that the bucket would be loaded in excess of"the ROC. The district court granted Clark summary judgment, concluding that Pacheco’s opinions did not meet the Rule 702 and “Daubert” standards. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. A court’s determination that an expert possesses the requisite qualifications does not, alone, provide a sufficient basis for admissibility. The court acted within its discretion in finding Pacheco's evidence in support of his opinion unreliable. Pacheco's causation opinion rested on speculation that the weight of the load exceeded the ROC but Pacheco did not know the weight of the load at the time of the accident. View "Kirk v. Clark Equipment Co." 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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Smith suffered an injury from a car accident, retained an attorney for a personal injury lawsuit, and authorized her attorney to obtain her healthcare information. The attorney requested Smith’s medical records from MHS, on three occasions. RecordQuest, not MHS, answered those requests and charged Smith’s attorney (who paid on her behalf) a $20.96 handling fee and an $8.26 certification fee each time.Smith brought a class action, alleging these charged fees contravened the permissible fee schedule set out in Wis. Stat. 146.83(3f)(b) for healthcare records requests and resulted in the unjust enrichment of RecordQuest. The district court dismissed both claims, reasoning that the statute imposes a duty upon only healthcare providers.” RecordQuest is not a healthcare provider but is the agent of MHS; “no principle of agency law holds that a principal’s liability is imputed to the agent when the agent performs the act that results in the principal’s liability.” Smith’s unjust enrichment claim failed because any unjust benefit that Smith allegedly conferred to RecordQuest belonged to MHS.The Wisconsin Court of Appeals subsequently expressly disagreed with the district court’s analysis of Smith’s statutory claim. The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of the statutory claim but affirmed as to Smith’s unjust enrichment claim. Under section 146.83(3f)(b), Smith has a remedy at law for any “injustice” that allegedly resulted from excessive payments; the equitable remedy of unjust enrichment is derivative of and predicated upon the statutory claim. View "Smith v. RecordQuest LLC" on Justia Law

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Horne rented a drain rodding machine made by Electric Eel from Home Depot. A Home Depot employee selected the machine, which had been tested before it was shipped. After a previous customer returned the machine, a Home Depot employee had determined that it was defective and replaced the foot pedal. Two friends were with Horne as he used the rodder. The powered reverse did not work, so Horne tried to remove the cable by hand. The cable wrapped around his forearm; he was thrown to the ground. Horne’s right hand was badly injured. The wound became gangrenous, most of his right index finger had to be amputated. Horne sued Home Depot and Electric Eel for negligence and breach of warranty and Electric Eel for strict product liability.The Seventh Circuit vacated, in part, summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The court noted conflicting provisions of Home Depot’s rental agreement. Horne assumed the risks of operating a machine in good working condition but did not assume the risks of operating a machine with flaws in its basic functioning. Horne has evidence that three key features of the machine were defective; a jury could infer that those defects caused his injuries. He is entitled to take his case against Home Depot to trial. Horne did not establish that Home Depot's Exculpatory Clause violated public policy. Horne failed to establish the absence of abnormal use or reasonable secondary causes and did not tie Electric Eel to his injuries. View "Horne v. Electric Eel Manufacturing Co., Inc." 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