Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Personal Injury
Cutchin v. Robertson
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
Peterson v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc.
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
Spinnenweber v. Laducer
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
Scottsdale Insurance Co. v. Columbia Insurance Group, Inc
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
Solomakha v. Safety International, LLC
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
Perez v. K & B Transportation, Inc.
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
Zhao v. United States
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
Jeffords v. BP Corporation North America, Inc.
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
Greene v. Westfield Insurance Co.
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
LeDure v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.
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