Justia Injury Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Rainey v. Taylor
Rapper Jayceon Taylor, also called “The Game,” starred in a VH1 television show called She’s Got Game. While filming in Chicago in 2015, Taylor took contestant Rainey on an off-camera date at a bar. Taylor sexually assaulted her by repeatedly lifting her skirt, grabbing her bare buttocks and vagina, and “juggling” her breasts in front of a large crowd as Rainey tried to break away. Rainey sued Taylor for sexual battery. Taylor evaded process, trolled Rainey on social media, dodged a settlement conference, and did not appear at trial. The judge denied his attorney's request for a continuance, dismissing Taylor’s proffered “dental emergency” excuse as an elaborate ruse. The judge instructed the jurors that they could infer from Taylor’s absence that his testimony would have been unfavorable to him. The jury awarded Rainey $1.13 million in compensatory damages and $6 million in punitive damages. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. District judges have wide discretion to manage their proceedings and resolve evidentiary issues. The rulings at issue lie well within that discretion. “Taylor has only himself to blame for the missing-witness instruction, which was plainly justified.” The verdict is well supported by the evidence; the compensatory award is not excessive under Illinois law, and the punitive award survives constitutional scrutiny. View "Rainey v. Taylor" on Justia Law
Abernathy v. Eastern Illinois Railroad Co.
The Railroad sent Abernathy and Probus to repair a railroad crossing, which required them to transport ties several miles. The Railroad had a “tie crane,” which runs on the railroad tracks but it had been inoperable for years. The employees had two options: a backhoe or a pickup truck, traveling on public roads. Abernathy drove the backhoe. Probus drove the pickup, with the tools. Two ties fell out of the backhoe’s bucket. Abernathy stopped to lift the ties back into the bucket, injuring his back and smashing a finger. Despite the accident, the men finished the job. The following morning, Abernathy reported the injury. Abernathy worked through the pain on lighter duty for a year but was unable to return to his regular work. The Railroad terminated his employment. He had physical therapy, epidural injections, and surgery but continued to experience pain. At the time of trial, his surgeon had not cleared him for any type of work. Abernathy sued under the Federal Employers’ Liability Act, 45 U.S.C 51. A jury found that Abernathy was 30 percent at fault and awarded a net amount, $525,000. The court awarded Abernathy prevailing party costs but declined to award witness fees above the statutory amount. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The jury could reasonably find that the Railroad did not provide Abernathy with appropriate equipment and that his working environment was not reasonably safe; a reasonable person in the Railroad’s position could have foreseen that transporting ties in a backhoe or pickup could lead to injury. There was sufficient evidence that the Railroad’s negligence played a part in causing Abernathy’s injury. View "Abernathy v. Eastern Illinois Railroad Co." on Justia Law
Posted in: Labor & Employment Law, Personal Injury, Transportation Law, US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Yeatts v. Zimmer Biomet Holdings, Inc.
Biomet employed Yeatts in a role that included implementing compliance policies. In 2008, Biomet terminated its Brazilian distributor Prosintese, run by Galindo, after learning that Galindo had bribed healthcare providers, in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 78dd-1. Prosintese still owned Brazilian registrations for Biomet’s products. Biomet could not quickly obtain new registrations, and, in 2009, agreed to cooperate with Prosintese and Galindo “to implement the new Biomet distributors.” A distributor that replaced Prosintese hired Galindo as a consultant. Yeatts communicated with Galindo in that new role. Biomet entered into a 2012 Deferred Prosecution Agreement with the Department of Justice, which required that Biomet engage an independent corporate compliance monitor. In 2013, Biomet received an anonymous whistleblower tip that Biomet continued to work with Galindo. Biomet informed the DOJ and the Monitor, terminated Yeatts, and included Yeatts on a Restricted Parties List. Biomet entered a second DOJ agreement that references Yeatts’s interactions with Galindo and paid a criminal penalty of $17.4 million. In Yeatts's defamation suit, the court granted Biomet summary judgment because Biomet’s statement that Yeatts posed a compliance risk was an opinion that could not be proven false and presented no defamatory imputation. Yeatts could not establish that Biomet made the statement with malice, so Biomet was protected by the qualified privilege of common interest and the public interest privilege. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, agreeing that inclusion of Yeatts on the Restricted Parties List conveyed no defamatory imputation of objectively verifiable or testable fact. View "Yeatts v. Zimmer Biomet Holdings, Inc." on Justia Law
Posted in: International Law, Labor & Employment Law, Personal Injury, US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Estate of Swannie Her v. Hoeppner
Six-year-old Swannie was found unresponsive on the bottom of a man-made swimming pond operated by the City of West Bend. She never regained consciousness and died days later. Swannie’s estate alleged federal constitutional (42 U.S.C. 1983) and state-law violations by the West Bend Parks Director, seven lifeguards, and the city. The theory of the constitutional claim was that the swimming pond is a state-created danger and the defendants acted or failed to act in a way that increased the danger. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The Due Process Clause confers no affirmative right to governmental aid and the evidence is insufficient to permit a reasonable jury to find a due-process violation premised on a statecreated danger. No reasonable jury could find that the defendants created a danger just by operating a public swimming pond or that they did anything to increase the danger to Swannie before she drowned. Nor was their conduct so egregious and culpable that it “shocks the conscience,” a necessary predicate for a court to find that an injury from a state-created danger amounts to a due-process violation. View "Estate of Swannie Her v. Hoeppner" on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Personal Injury, US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Linder v. McPherson
Tracking a fugitive, Deputy Marshal Linder interrogated the fugitive’s father. Another deputy saw Linder punch the father. Linder was indicted for witness tampering and using excessive force and was put on leave. McPherson, the U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of Illinois, instructed other deputies not to communicate with Linder or his lawyers without approval. The indictment was dismissed as a sanction. Linder returned to work. Linder filed a “Bivens action,” against McPherson and a suit against the government under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. 1346(b). The district court dismissed all of Linder’s claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed against the government alone. Section 2680(a) provides that the Act does not apply to “[a]ny claim ... based upon the exercise or performance or the failure to exercise or perform a discretionary function or duty on the part of a federal agency or an employee of the Government, whether or not the discretion involved be abused.” In deciding when federal employees needed permission to talk with Linder or his lawyer, McPherson exercised a discretionary function. The court rejected arguments that the discretionary function exemption does not apply to malicious prosecution suits. “Congress might have chosen to provide financial relief to all persons who are charged with crimes but never convicted. The Federal Tort Claims Act does not do this.” View "Linder v. McPherson" on Justia Law
Posted in: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Government & Administrative Law, Labor & Employment Law, Personal Injury, US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
Timm v. Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America, Ltd.
Donald and Mary Timm sustained serious injuries in a horrific motorcycle accident. A few months later, they received notice that the helmets they were wearing at the time of the accident were recalled. Believing defects with the motorcycle and its rear tire caused the accident—and that their injuries were especially severe because of a defect with their helmets—the Timms brought a products liability action under Indiana law against defendants involved in the sale and manufacture of the motorcycle, its rear tire, and the helmets. Concluding that the Timms failed to present admissible expert testimony to support their claims, the district court entered summary judgment for the defendants. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Timms did not present any expert testimony to show that, because of a defect with their helmets, their injuries were worse than they otherwise would have experienced in such a severe motorcycle crash. The court rejected the Timms’ claims alleging negligent recall and failure to comply with federal safety standards, concluding that the Indiana Products Liability Act permits neither claim. The court properly excluded expert testimony against Harley-Davidson and Goodyear as lacking the reliability required by Federal Rule of Evidence 702 and “Daubert.” View "Timm v. Goodyear Dunlop Tires North America, Ltd." on Justia Law
Guerrero v. BNSF Railway Co.
Guerrero was trying to drive to his job at BNSF Railway through a snowstorm early one morning. His car skidded, collided with a snowplow, and he was killed. His widow sought compensatory damages from BNSF under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act (FELA, 45 U.S.C. 51–59). The district court ruled in favor of BNSF. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Stating that the question of whether Guerrero was within the scope of his employment when the accident occurred was a close one, the court declined to resolve the issue. Guerrero was not heading to his normal job, but had accepted a special assignment; his union contract provides that “the time of an employee who is called after release from duty to report for work will begin at the time called.” Looking at the evidence favorably to Guerrero, he was not commuting, but was “on the clock” and working on the special assignment. No jury, however, could find that BNSF was negligent in any action it took or failed to take with respect to Guerrero. FELA does not make the employer the insurer of the safety of his employees while they are on duty. The only action BNSF took was to ask Guerrero to come to work under conditions known to both parties. View "Guerrero v. BNSF Railway Co." on Justia Law
Clark v. River Metals Recycling, LLC
Clark was badly injured as he was getting off a car-crushing machine--a mobile RB6000 Logger/Baler--which was used by his employer, Thornton Auto Crushing. He sued both the crusher’s manufacturer, Sierra, and the company that had leased it to Thornton, River Metals, asserting that they were liable to him under Illinois tort law because it was defectively designed. The district court granted summary judgment in both defendants’ favor after striking the testimony from Clark’s expert. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court’s decision to exclude the testimony represented a reasonable assessment of the proposed evidence. It found the expert’s methodology to be unclear and conclusory. There was no need for a hearing; the report was just five pages long, including the expert’s discussion of the facts, his description of the machine, and his recitation of the Operator’s Manual. His analysis covers one page and misstates a standard concerning equipment safeguards. The case was not one that could be decided based on common experience. View "Clark v. River Metals Recycling, LLC" on Justia Law
Posted in: Labor & Employment Law, Personal Injury, Products Liability, US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
McCarty v. Menard, Inc.
McCarty and Parks went to an Illinois Menard’s store to purchase sheets of oriented strand board (OSB). They drove a pickup truck to the store’s lumber shed and found the OSB piles, stacked side-by-side, behind display signs. The display sign at issue was knee high with protruding wooden legs. McCarty moved some top boards from a central OSB pile over to a right side adjacent pile while searching for undamaged boards. Parks did the same on the left side. After McCarty moved a few boards, he tripped over a piece of wood that was part of the display sign in front of the right‐hand pile. The display sign was normally set flush against the stacks, as were the other signs. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of McCarty’s injury suit. The open and obvious doctrine applies when “[t]he open and obvious nature of the condition itself gives caution and therefore the risk of harm is considered slight; people are expected to appreciate and avoid obvious risks.” The only reasonable conclusion is that McCarty saw the protruding sign while standing in front of it. A reasonable person with McCarty’s knowledge of the situation would have appreciated and avoided the hazardous condition. View "McCarty v. Menard, Inc." on Justia Law
Webber v. Butner
Webber, who was not a professional logger, was cutting down a tree on property owned by his friend, Butner, when a branch fell and hit Webber on the head, causing severe injuries. Webber sued for negligence, alleging that Butner, as the property's owner, had a duty to take reasonable steps to protect Webber’s safety and that Butner assumed a specific duty to Webber when he agreed to look out for hazards and failed to warn Butner of the falling branch. At trial, the court admitted evidence that Webber was not wearing a hardhat while cutting the tree and instructed the jury that the evidence could not support a defense of failure to mitigate damages but could show assumption of risk and comparative fault and whether Webber acted as a reasonably careful person. The jury apportioned 51% of the fault to Webber and 49% to Butner. Under Indiana’s modified comparative fault statute, Webber recovered nothing. The Seventh Circuit ordered a new trial. In determining fault, Indiana law bars admission of evidence that an injured plaintiff was not using safety equipment unless the failure to use the equipment contributed to causing the injury. The fact that Webber was not wearing a hardhat did not cause the branch to fall and hit him on the head. The admission of this evidence and the jury instruction were errors that were not harmless because the jury decided on a “razor‐thin split.” View "Webber v. Butner" on Justia Law