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

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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TDH’s contract to provide HVAC services at a Chicago construction site contained provisions agreeing to indemnify Rockwell, the owner. TDH provided a Certificate of Liability Insurance, identifying Columbia as the commercial general liability insurer, TDH as the insured, and Rockwell and Prairie (the manager) as additional insureds. While working at the site, TDH’s employee Guzman fell 22 feet through an unguarded opening in the second floor, sustaining serious injuries.Guzman sued Rockwell, Prairie, and others. Guzman did not sue TDH. Several defendants filed third-party complaints against TDH for contribution. Scottsdale insured Rockwell and has defended Rockwell and Prairie. Scottsdale filed suit, wanting Columbia to take over their defense.The district court declared that Columbia owes a duty to defend Prairie and Rockwell, ordered Columbia to pay Scottsdale $50,000 for defense costs through August 2019, and left the issue of indemnity for another day. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Columbia policy limitation that another organization would only be an additional insured with respect to liability arising out of TDH’s ongoing operations performed for that other organization does not eliminate Columbia’s duty to defend. Prairie’s and Rockwell’s liability for the fall potentially arises in part out of TDH’s then-ongoing operations performed for Prairie and Rockwell. It does not matter that the underlying suit does not name TDH. The underlying allegations do not preclude the possibility of coverage. View "Scottsdale Insurance Co. v. Columbia Insurance Group, Inc" on Justia Law

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At an Illinois road construction site, a flagger abruptly turned his sign from “SLOW” to “STOP.” Roberts slammed on his breaks. Solomakha, driving a tractor-trailer truck rear-ended him, causing Roberts serious injury. Roberts sued Solomakha and the Alex transportation companies. The defendants filed a third-party complaint for contribution against the construction site's general contractor, E-K, and a subcontractor, Safety. E-K settled and was dismissed. The Alex parties also settled with the plaintiffs but continued the contribution action against Safety, arguing that the Illinois Joint Tortfeasor Contribution Act allows the court to redistribute E-K’s share of liability as determined by a jury between the Alex Parties and Safety.The statute provides: The pro-rata share of each tortfeasor shall be determined in accordance with his relative culpability. However, no person shall be required to contribute to one seeking contribution an amount greater than his pro rata share unless the obligation of one or more of the joint tortfeasors is uncollectable. In that event, the remaining tortfeasors shall share the unpaid portions of the uncollectable obligation in accordance with their pro-rata liability.The district court determined that, as a matter of Illinois law, the Alex Parties, Safety, and E-K all must appear on the verdict form so that the jury could adequately apportion fault among every party, The Seventh Circuit certified to the Illinois Supreme Court the question of whether the “obligation” of a settling party is “uncollectable” under 740 ILCS 100/3. View "Solomakha v. Safety International, LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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The accident occurred on I-294 in Illinois. The posted speed limit was 55 miles per hour. It was dark. The weather was cold, snowy, and icy. Perez’s SUV spun out of control. Wharton’s tractor-trailer truck struck the right rear of Perez’s car. Perez claims that his vehicle hit a patch of black ice within its lane, swerved, then returned to the original lane in which Wharton was following Perez. Perez testified he was driving 15-30 miles per hour, while Wharton was driving at or slightly above the posted speed limit. Wharton says that she saw Perez spin out and that his vehicle moved from the right lane all the way to the left side of the highway, so she began slowing down, but Perez unexpectedly cut all the way across the highway again. Wharton testified that she had downshifted to third or fourth gear by the time of impact so that her truck would have been going 10-15 miles per hour. After excluding Perez’s expert witnesses on accidents and truck‐driving, the district court granted summary judgment for Wharton. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Under Illinois law, a reasonable jury could infer that Wharton was driving negligently based on the evidence that she rear‐ended Perez and that she was driving too fast for the weather conditions. View "Perez v. K & B Transportation, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Personal Injury
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When Zhao gave birth to her son “S.,” he suffered an avoidable brachial plexus injury that severely and permanently impaired the function of his right arm. During her pregnancy and S.’s birth, Zhao was attended by an obstetrician employed by a federally supported grant clinic in southern Illinois, who is considered an employee of the U.S. Public Health Service under 42 U.S.C. 233(g), Zhao sued for medical malpractice under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The court found that the obstetrician had been negligent and awarded Zhao, on behalf of S., $2.6 million in lost earnings and $5.5 million in noneconomic damages. S. was not five years old at the time of trial. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting the government’s argument that the calculation of S.’s future lost earnings was improperly speculative, given the uncertainties inherent in projecting a five‐year‐old’s career opportunities. The question may have been difficult, but there was no reversible error. The court took a reasonable approach to estimate the lost earnings award based on data provided in expert testimony. The government also challenged the award of non-economic damages as arbitrary and excessive in comparison to similar cases. The court could have provided a more detailed explanation of its comparative process, but its reasoning did not amount to reversible error. View "Zhao v. United States" on Justia Law

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Jeffords, a crane operator on a construction project at an oil refinery, fell seven feet from the catwalk on the body of a crane and injured his feet and back. He sued the project owner and several of its contractors for negligence. While this lawsuit was pending, Jeffords died, apparently of unrelated causes.. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. None of the defendants whom Jeffords sued owed him a duty of care. BP owns and operates the Whiting, Indiana oil refinery and contracted with Fluor to provide engineering, procurement, and construction management services. BP and Fluor each entered into separate contracts with MCI to provide construction services. BP also contracted with Central Rent‐a‐Crane, Jeffords’s employer. Central had no contractual relationship with Fluor or MCI; Central is not a defendant because the workers’ compensation system would apply to Jeffords’s injuries on the job. Each of the plaintiff’s arguments that the defendants assumed a duty of care is defeated by the undisputed material facts and contractual provisions in the record, and by the limits of the relevant Indiana Supreme Court cases. View "Jeffords v. BP Corporation North America, Inc." on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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