Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Personal Injury
Jaranowski v. Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad Co.
Jaranowski worked as a conductor for the Railroad for 22 years. While operating a railroad switch in 2020, he seriously injured his neck. He sued the railroad under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. 51, alleging that he was injured because the railroad failed to maintain the switch properly. He accused the railroad of ordinary negligence and negligence per se based on alleged violations of Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Track Safety Standards, 49 C.F.R. 213. The district court concluded that Jaranowski had failed to present evidence that would support a finding that the railroad had actual or constructive notice of any defect in the switch before he was injured and granted the Railroad summary judgment.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Actual or constructive notice is required to violate the federal Track Safety Standards, however, Jaranowski presented sufficient evidence to create a genuine dispute as to whether the railroad at least should have known that the switch was defective before he was injured. A reasonable jury could accept Jaranowski’s account of the facts and the report of his expert, who examined the switch, to conclude that the Railroad’s prior inspection was performed without due care. View "Jaranowski v. Indiana Harbor Belt Railroad Co." on Justia Law
Parton v. Cook Medical, LLC
The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) centralized cases arising out of alleged defects in Cook’s inferior vena cava (IVC) filters, 28 U.S.C. 1407(a). Many plaintiffs in the MDL claim that Cook’s filters cause pain and suffering, disabilities, emotional injuries, lost earnings, increased medical bills, and in some cases death. To help manage the litigation, the district court adopted direct filing and case categorization procedures. Parton and Sykes were each implanted with a Cook IVC filter. Years later, CT scans revealed that their filters had perforated their IVC walls. They experienced no pain or other symptoms, but they pursued product liability claims against Cook. The direct-filing procedure did not require Parton or Sykes to file a standard complaint; each filed a short-form complaint, which incorporated allegations from a master complaint that ostensibly applied to all direct-filing plaintiffs.The district court granted Cook summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of federal subject-matter jurisdiction. Jurisdiction in these cases is based solely on diversity of citizenship, which requires the amount in controversy in each case to exceed $75,000, 28 U.S.C. 1332(a). Parton and Sykes allege the proper amount in controversy, but the nature of their alleged injuries indicates that no more than $75,000 is at stake in either case. They have not suffered the injuries alleged in the master complaint; the allegations in their short-form complaints were inadequate. View "Parton v. Cook Medical, LLC" on Justia Law
Brad Martin v. Actavis Inc.
Plaintiff was taking a testosterone replacement therapy drug (“TRT”) called Androderm when he suffered a heart attack. The resulting lawsuits against TRT-producing pharmaceutical companies were consolidated as multidistrict litigation (“MDL”), and Plaintiff filed his lawsuit as part of that MDL. When Defendant Actavis, the company that produces Androderm, reached a global settlement with most of the MDL plaintiffs, Plaintiff opted to take his case to trial. Plaintiff’s attorney filed a motion for a new trial, alleging that Actavis had intentionally withheld evidence to protect its defense strategy against Plaintiff. Plaintiff’s attorney received the last documents in a months-overdue discovery production for another Androderm case in the MDL on which he was also lead counsel. These documents included a previously undisclosed letter from the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) requiring Actavis to conduct a trial to study a potential causal link between Androderm and high blood pressure. The district court denied the motion, holding that the evidence did not warrant a new trial.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the FDA letter would probably not have resulted in a verdict in Plaintiff’s favor. The court explained that even if the high blood pressure evidence had been more important to the trial, the considerations highlighted in Marcus make clear that the FDA study would not have made a new outcome probable. Removing Actavis’s blood pressure argument would leave seven alternative causes for Plaintiff’s heart attack. And the significance of Plaintiff’s blood pressure had already been undercut throughout trial. Taken together, the introduction of the FDA letter simply would not make a different outcome probable. View "Brad Martin v. Actavis Inc." on Justia Law
Deborah Johnson v. Edward Orton, Jr. Ceramic Foundation
Plaintiff initially brought this product liability action in state court against Edward Orton, Jr. Ceramic Foundation (“Orton”). She alleged that her late husband, Bruce Johnson, contracted mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos contained in vermiculite packaging material used by Orton. Orton removed the action to federal court, and, in due course, the district court granted summary judgment for Orton. It held that, under applicable Illinois state law, Orton did not owe a duty to Mr. Johnson. The Seventh Circuit reversed the judgment of the district court and remanded this case. The court explained that the district court should not have granted summary judgment on the issue of Orton’s duty in the period after September 1981. Orton had actual knowledge during that time period that the W.R. Grace vermiculite was contaminated with asbestos, and there is a genuine issue of triable fact as to Orton’s continued use of W.R. Grace vermiculite after receiving the Data Sheet. Further, the court reasoned that the district court, because it concluded that Orton did not owe a duty to Mr. Johnson, did not reach the question of whether Ms. Johnson can establish causation. The court wrote it declined to consider the issue of causation in the first instance. View "Deborah Johnson v. Edward Orton, Jr. Ceramic Foundation" on Justia Law
Richard Webber v. Armslist, LLC
Plaintiffs are the legal representatives and family members of two individuals killed using guns that had been listed on armslist.com, an online firearms marketplace. Plaintiffs each sued Armslist LLC and its member manager, Jonathan Gibbon, in separate diversity actions, alleging negligence and other Wisconsin state law claims. Plaintiffs asserted that Defendants designed the website to encourage and assist individuals in circumventing federal and state law regulating firearms. Defendants argued that Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because publishing third-party offers to sell firearms does not establish tort or other liability under Wisconsin law. The district court dismissed the negligence claim in both cases, concluding that Plaintiffs failed to plausibly allege the website’s design caused the deaths. The remaining claims were also dismissed, and Gibbon was dismissed from the lawsuit for lack of personal jurisdiction. The Seventh Circuit reversed the decision in Webber that personal jurisdiction exists over Gibbon. Further, the court wrote that because Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, it affirmed the dismissal in each case. The court explained that Plaintiffs have not alleged an act or omission occurring within the state or solicitation or service activities outside of the state by Gibbon that would bring him within the grasp of Wisconsin’s long-arm statute. Moreover, the court wrote that Plaintiffs have failed to plausibly plead that the deaths would not have occurred but for Armslist LLC’s failure to permit users to flag illegal conduct. View "Richard Webber v. Armslist, LLC" on Justia Law
T. S. v. County of Cook
Fox TV obtained permission from Superintendent Dixon to film scenes for the television series, Empire, at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center. Fox used the Center’s outdoor yard, visitation room, medical office, and certain living spaces for five days and returned to film retakes on seven additional days. During filming, several housing pods housed more detainees than the Center’s policy suggested; some detainees exercised indoors instead of in the outdoor yard; some classes were moved; and the Center postponed or canceled some extra‐curricular activities and held visitation hours in a smaller room.Three detainees filed a proposed class action lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court granted Dixon partial summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds because the plaintiffs had not shown “a clearly established right to be free of the arguably modest disruptions” but did not dismiss state law claims. The court reasoned that Dixon acted as the detainees’ guardian and had a fiduciary duty to “protect [them] from harm.” Under the holding, Dixon would only be entitled to sovereign immunity on the state law breach of fiduciary duty claim if he proved that he did not violate the detainees’ constitutional rights. On interlocutory appeal, the Seventh Circuit held that Dixon is immune from suit under the Illinois State Lawsuit Immunity Act. The alleged wrongful conduct arose from decisions Dixon made within the scope of his authority. View "T. S. v. County of Cook" on Justia Law
Bridges v. Blackstone, Inc.
Bridges and Cunningham filed a putative class action, alleging that Blackstone (the owner of Ancestry.com) violated Section 30 of Illinois’s 1998 Genetic Information Privacy Act, which provides that no person or company “may disclose or be compelled to disclose the identity of any person upon whom a genetic test is performed or the results of a genetic test in a manner that permits identification of the subject of the test,” 410 ILCS 513/30(a). Both plaintiffs had purchased DNA testing products from Ancestry and submitted saliva samples for genetic sequencing years earlier. Blackstone subsequently purchased Ancestry in a “control acquisition”— an all-stock transaction. Because Ancestry had allegedly paired the plaintiffs’ genetic tests with personally identifiable information—including names, emails, and home addresses—Bridges and Cunningham maintained that Blackstone, as part of acquiring Ancestry, had compelled the disclosure of their genetic identities in violation of Section 30.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit for failure to state a claim. The complaint focusing exclusively on Blackstone’s acquisition of Ancestry did not adequately allege any compulsory disclosure. View "Bridges v. Blackstone, Inc." on Justia Law
Creation Supply, Inc. v. Hahn
Selective denied coverage of Creation's insurance claim. Creation sued for breach of contract and won. Creation then pursued costs and fees for Selective’s vexatious and unreasonable delay under the Illinois Insurance Code, 215 ILCS 5/155. The Seventh Circuit held that the remedy was unavailable. Creation then sued Selective’s in-house lawyer, the lawyer’s supervisor, and its outside counsel, alleging they tortiously interfered with the contract between Selective and Creation.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The suits were an attempt at double recovery—one from the principal and one from its agents. The corporate form limits, not doubles, liability. In Illinois, tortious interference requires some sort of interloper and precludes applying the economic loss doctrine to claims for tortious interference. Illinois provides a corporation’s agents with a conditional privilege, rooted in the business judgment rule, from tortious interference suits. When an agent acts in the corporation’s interests, she is protected from liability for interfering in her principal’s contractual affairs. When an agent interferes with a contract, she is presumed to do so for the company’s benefit. Under Illinois law, overcoming the privilege was Creation’s burden to plead, and its failure to do so with more than mere conclusory allegations dooms its suit. View "Creation Supply, Inc. v. Hahn" on Justia Law
Anderson v. Raymond Corp.
While working as a standup forklift operator, Anderson hit a bump and fell onto the floor. The forklift continued moving and ran over her leg; the resulting injuries necessitated its amputation. Anderson sued the forklift’s manufacturer, Raymond, alleging that the forklift was negligently designed. The parties disputed the admissibility of the testimony of Dr. Meyer, one of Anderson’s experts. Meyer believed that Raymond could have made several changes to its design that would have prevented Anderson’s accident. Meyer’s primary suggestion was a door to enclose the operating compartment, which would prevent operators from falling into the forklift’s path. Like other standup forklift manufacturers, Raymond offers doors as an option but does not fit doors to its forklifts as standard, claiming that a door could impede the operator’s ability to make a quick exit if the forklift runs off a loading dock or begins to tip over. The district court concluded that Meyer’s opinion about a door was inadmissible because it did not satisfy Federal Rule of Evidence 702 or the “Daubert” test but admitted Meyer’s opinions on other potential design improvements.The Seventh Circuit reversed a judgment in Raymond's favor. The exclusion of Meyer’s opinion was substantially prejudicial to Anderson’s case. Meyer has a “full range of practical experience," academic, and technical training and his methodology rested on accepted scientific principles, Raymond’s critiques go to the weight his opinion should be given rather than its admissibility. View "Anderson v. Raymond Corp." on Justia Law
T.H.E. Insurance Co. v. Olson
Olson and Zdroik sustained injuries while volunteering at municipal fireworks displays in 2018. Fireworks distributed by Spielbauer Fireworks exploded prematurely at both events, severely burning the two. Both towns used teams of volunteers to operate their Fourth of July displays. Olson opened and closed a bin from which other volunteers retrieved fireworks during the Rib Lake show. Zdroik worked at the Land O’Lakes event as a “shooter,” manually lighting the fuses on mortar shells.Spielbauer’s insurer, T.H.E. Insurance, contested coverage under Spielbauer’s general and excess liability policies, which stated: This policy shall NOT provide coverage of any kind ... for any claims arising out of injuries or death to shooters or their assistants hired to perform fireworks displays or any other persons assisting or aiding in the display of fireworks whether or not any of the foregoing are employed by the Named Insured, any shooter or any assistant. The issue was whether the exclusion extends to all volunteers or only to those assisting hired shooters or hired assistants.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, in favor of T.H.E. Insurance. The Shooters Endorsement plainly and unambiguously excludes from coverage hired shooters and their hired assistants and “any other persons” who assist the fireworks display, regardless of whether they assist hired persons. View "T.H.E. Insurance Co. v. Olson" on Justia Law