Justia Injury Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Bourke was exposed to fumes during his employment with the Veterans Administration. He received treatment at a VA hospital and contends that medical malpractice there caused him serious injuries. He sought compensation from the Department of Labor under the Federal Employees Compensation Act for on-the-job injuries and from the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act for medical malpractice. The Department of Labor processed Bourke’s claim but found that he had not shown that his asserted injuries had been caused by exposure to fumes. The VA (handling the FTCA claim) concluded that, once Bourke applied to the Department of Labor, all other sources of relief were precluded. Bourke sued under the Tort Claims Act, conceding the Department of Labor’s conclusion that conditions at work did not cause the medical issues for which he was treated by the VA, and alleging medical malpractice.The district court rejected his complaint on the ground that the Federal Employees Compensation Act offers his sole avenue of relief.; once the Department of Labor adjudicates a claim, the applicant must accept the result because 5 U.S.C. 8116(c) forecloses other sources of relief and 5 U.S.C. 8128(b)(2) blocks judicial review of the Department’s decisions.The Seventh Circuit vacated. Bourke is not seeking judicial review of the Department of Labor’s decision. Someone who loses before the Department cannot contest that outcome in court but may pursue other remedies that are compatible with the Department’s views. View "Bourke v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Ludwig hiking group purchased vehicle passes from the ranger station in Oregon's Mount Hood Wilderness, federal land administered by the Forest Service, which provides parking areas and trail access. As the hikers crossed the Sandy River on a wooden seasonal bridge installed by the Service, a logjam ruptured, sending a wave of water and debris at the bridge. Ludwig was thrown into the river and drowned.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the government in a wrongful death action under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. 2671. Oregon statutes create immunity for a landowner from tort claims for any death that arises out of the use of the land for recreational purposes unless the owner charges for that recreational use; tort immunity applies if the owner charges only a “parking fee of $15 or less per day.” The Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act allows the Service to charge a standard amenity fee for an area that contains designated parking; a permanent toilet facility; a permanent trash receptacle; picnic tables; and security services. The Forest Service requires Ramona Falls visitors to purchase a $5 "National Forest Recreation Pass" to park; it tells users to “DISPLAY IN VEHICLE.” The Service does not require a pass or collect fees from hikers, bikers, and horseback riders who do not park a vehicle. It does not matter that the Service included other amenities; the charge was, ultimately, for parking. View "Ludwig v. United States" on Justia Law

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Suing under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 42 U.S.C. 233(a) Clanton alleged that nurse practitioner Jordan, an employee of the U.S. Public Health Service, failed to educate him about his severe hypertension or to monitor its advancement; his hypertension developed into Stage V kidney disease so that Clanton required dialysis and, at the age of 35, a kidney transplant. The district court rejected the government’s comparative negligence argument as to Clanton and awarded Clanton nearly $30 million in damages. The Seventh Circuit upheld the damages calculation but remanded for the court to assess Clanton’s comparative negligence under Illinois’s reasonable-person standard, noting that Clanton had external clues that he was seriously unwell, such as two employment-related physicals which showed dangerously high blood pressure.On remand, the court again concluded that comparative negligence was inapplicable. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court made findings as to what an objectively reasonable person would understand as to hypertension and found that a reasonable person would not understand the potential for damage absent any symptoms, and therefore would not understand the need to take medication or see a medical provider when asymptomatic. Based on those findings, the court held that Clanton’s actions were not inconsistent with the due care that would be expected of a reasonable person. The government did not challenge whether the fact-findings and conclusion were supportable; the court properly identified and applied the standard. View "Clanton v. United States" on Justia Law

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Dollar General contracts separately with Capstone and CHEP for work at its Marion, Indiana distribution center. Dollar General owned certain power equipment at the distribution center, including all pallet jacks. Capstone and CHEP employees were permitted to use Dollar General’s jacks. Dollar General personnel were responsible for maintaining the jacks. Capstone and CHEP employees who had an issue with a jack were to take it to the Dollar General maintenance shop and fill out a “red tag.”Capstone employed Seekins to unload trucks at the distribution center. Seekins lost his left foot as a result of an accident involving a jack and sued CHEP. Seekins alleged that the jack had possibly been used by a CHEP employee before Seekins and that CHEP’s alleged failure to remove the jack from service meant that CHEP effectively supplied it to Seekins.The district court entered summary judgment, holding that CHEP did not owe Seekins a duty of care under Indiana negligence law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. CHEP was not a “supplier” as that term is used in the Indiana statute. The sharing of equipment owned, controlled, and maintained by a third company does not create a duty of care. View "Seekins v. CHEP USA" on Justia Law

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On October 28, 2016, Jones, was a passenger in an Uber car owned by Langwith and driven by Waterhouse. That car was struck by a vehicle owned and driven by Ramos, a New Jersey resident. Jones, injured in the accident, filed suit in New Jersey two days before the statute of limitations was due to run. After the plaintiff’s attorney failed to effect service of the summons and complaint on any of the defendants within 90 days, the court issued a Notice of Call for Dismissal. Jones then moved to change venue to Indiana, asserting that the Uber driver, a citizen of Indiana, was not subject to personal jurisdiction in New Jersey. The court granted that motion and directed Jones to serve a copy of the venue order on the defendants within five days. His counsel served the venue order on the defendants but still did not serve the summons and complaint. Three months later, Waterhouse moved for dismissal. Nine days later, new counsel for Jones entered an appearance in the Indiana court and began serving the summons and complaint on all of the defendants. The summons and complaint were served on all of the defendants, 238-244 days after the filing of the complaint. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the case. The Indiana district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that there was no good cause for the delay and declining to grant an extension. View "Jones v. Ramos" on Justia Law

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Stark had surgery in 2007 to implant a pelvic mesh device. The surgery was not successful, and she had follow-up surgeries that also were not successful. In 2018, she learned for the first time that her problems with the pelvic mesh device might have resulted from a defect in the product itself. She consulted a lawyer and later that year filed this suit against the manufacturer. The district court concluded that Stark should have realized much earlier that the product might have been defective and granted summary judgment based on the two-year statute of limitations.The Seventh Circuit reversed. The statute of limitations began to run only when Stark should have realized that her mesh-related complications might have been wrongfully caused by another person. As a general rule, the failure of a medical procedure or product to cure a patient does not necessarily signal that anyone acted wrongfully, particularly when the patient experiences known complications that do not necessarily result from tortious actions. In addition here, Stark’s medical history included Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which two of her doctors told her could explain her continued problems. The combination of that general principle and her specific circumstances could allow a reasonable jury to decide that this suit was timely. View "Stark v. Johnson & Johnson and Ethicon, Inc." on Justia Law

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All Seasons inspected SparrowHawk's warehouse roofs and discovered hail damage. Because All Seasons did not hold an Illinois roofing license, it arranged for Prate to serve as general contractor with All Seasons as subcontractor. All Seasons was to provide materials and labor, maintain safety, and supervise the project. All Seasons purchased a commercial general liability policy and general liability extension endorsement from United, listing Prate as an “additional insured” in a “vicarious liability endorsement.” All Seasons then subcontracted with Century. Ayala, a Century employee was working on a SparrowHawk warehouse when he fell to his death.The Illinois workers’ compensation system provided limited death benefits but precluded tort remedies against his direct employer, Century. Ayala’s estate sued Prate, All Seasons, and SparrowHawk. Prate tendered the defense to United, which declined to defend and sought a declaratory judgment. All Seasons and United reached a settlement with the estate, paying the policy limits.The district court granted Prate summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting United’s argument that because its named insured was an independent contractor, Illinois law would not impose any liability on the additional insured and there was no risk of covered liability. The duty to defend depends on the claims the plaintiff asserts, not on their prospects for success. The settlement of the underlying claims against the named insured, however, removed any possibility that the additional insured might be held vicariously liable for actions of the named insured; the duty to defend ended when that settlement was consummated. View "United Fire & Casualty Co. v. Prate Roofing & Installations LLC" on Justia Law

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Deerfield. the general contractor, subcontracted with P.S. Demolition, which agreed to indemnify and hold Deerfield harmless from all claims caused in whole or in part by P.S. P.S. employees were working at the site when an unsecured capstone fell, killing one and injuring another. The Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act limited P.S.’s liability to $5,993.91 and $25,229.15. The state court held that P.S. had waived the Kotecki cap that would ordinarily apply those limits to a third party (Deerfield) suing for contribution for its pro-rata share of common liability for a workplace injury. A bankruptcy court determined that P.S. had no assets; the state court determined that P.S.’s liability was limited to its available insurance coverage. Deerfield settled with the plaintiffs for substantially more than $75,000 plus an assignment of Deerfield’s contribution claim against P.S.StarNet, P.S.’s employer liability insurer, entered into a settlement with the plaintiffs, reserving its defenses to insurance coverage. The plaintiffs dismissed their negligence claims against P.S. The workers’ compensation and employers' liability policy issued to P.S. provides that StarNet will pay damages for which P.S. is liable to indemnify third parties, excluding “liability assumed under a contract, including any agreement to waive your right to limit your liability for contribution to the amount of benefits payable under the Workers Compensation Act ... This exclusion does not apply to a warranty that your work will be done in a workmanlike manner.The Seventh Circuit affirmed a declaratory judgment that StarNet owes P.S. no coverage for the employees’ injuries beyond the amounts specified by the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act and the Kotecki cap. The court rejected arguments that P.S.’s liability in the personal injury action arose in part from P.S.’s failure to conduct the demolition in a workmanlike manner so that the exception applies. View "StarNet Insurance Co. v. Ruprecht" on Justia Law

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Five South Bend officers were assigned to an area of the city that was considered to be a “hot spot.” One drove a fully marked police vehicle. Two officers patrolled in an unmarked car without sirens or lights; two sat in an unmarked car that had sirens and lights. Around 4:30 am, the patrolling car radioed over the tactical channel that they planned to stop a speeding car. The remaining officers promptly acknowledged the report but did not indicate that the traffic stop was an emergency, nor did they request assistance from other officers.After hearing the exchanges, knowing that no one was requesting assistance, Gorny (two miles away) roared through a residential neighborhood at 78 miles per hour, disregarding the 30 mph speed limit, with infrequent use of lights or sirens. On Western Avenue, he accelerated up to 98 mph and reached the Kaley Avenue intersection with an obstructed view. Disregarding the red light, Gorny sped across and crashed into Flores’s car, killing her.The district court dismissed a 42 U.S.C. 1983 substantive due process action. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Flores’s allegations plausibly state claims against Gorny and the city. The law does not provide a shield against constitutional violations for state actors who consciously take extreme, obvious risks. Flores’s complaint plausibly alleges that the city acted with deliberate indifference by failing to address the known recklessness of its officers as a group and Gorny in particular. View "Flores v. City of South Bend" on Justia Law

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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