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

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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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

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In 2012, Laducer, a truck driver, rear-ended Spinnenweber’s minivan. Spinnenweber refused medical treatment at the scene. He later sought treatment for neck pain, tinnitus, and bouts of short-term memory loss. Spinnenweber sued Laducer and Laducer’s employer, seeking compensatory damages for his physical injuries. He did not seek punitive damages, medical costs, or lost wages, nor did he claim psychological or emotional injuries. Defendants conceded liability. The defendants’ medical expert, Dr. Carney, was the only expert that Spinnenweber relied on. He testified that Spinnenweber “clearly had a whiplash injury” from the crash. “He certainly could’ve had a very mild concussion.” Dr. Carney did not connect the alleged memory loss or the tinnitus to the accident. Spinnenweber’s counsel stated during closing arguments that the purpose of tort law "is to deter bad conduct so it doesn’t repeat.”The jury awarded Spinnenweber $1 million in compensatory damages. The court offered Spinnenweber the choice of accepting $250,000 or a new trial. Spinnenweber declined to accept the remittitur award. His attorney withdrew. After a one-day bench trial, Spinnenweber requested an award of $0 in damages, calling it a “verdict of silence.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The court did not abuse its discretion by finding that Spinnenweber’s evidence showed that he potentially suffered just whiplash and a mild concussion or by finding that the $1 million verdict was so outrageous that it warranted remittitur or a new trial. “Spinnenweber was hoisted with his own petard.” View "Spinnenweber v. Laducer" on Justia Law

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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