Justia Medical Malpractice Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
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Davis, an Illinois prisoner suffering from kidney disease, received dialysis on a Saturday. He subsequently told a prison nurse that his mind was fuzzy and his body was weak. Both complaints were similar to side effects he had experienced in the past after dialysis. The nurse called Dr. Kayira, the prison’s medical director, who asked her whether Davis had asymmetrical grip strength, facial droop, or was drooling—all classic signs of a stroke. When she said “no,” Dr. Kayira determined that Davis was experiencing the same dialysis-related side effects as before rather than something more serious. He told the nurse to monitor the problem and call him if the symptoms got worse. Dr. Kayira did not hear anything for the rest of the weekend. On Monday morning he examined Davis and discovered that Davis had suffered a stroke. Davis sued, alleging deliberate indifference to his medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment and a state-law medical-malpractice claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Kayira. The deliberate-indifference claim failed because there is no evidence that Kayira was aware of symptoms suggesting that Davis was suffering a stroke. The state-law claim failed because Davis lacked expert testimony about the appropriate standard of care. A magistrate had blocked Davis’s sole expert because he was not disclosed in time, Davis never objected to that ruling before the district court. View "Davis v. Kayira" on Justia Law

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While serving a prison sentence at the Lawrence Correctional Center in Illinois, Gabb experienced severe back pain whenever he stood too long (15-20 minutes). After treatments he received did not relieve his pain, Gabb sued two members of Lawrence’s medical staff, Dr. Coe and Nurse Kimmel, alleging they were deliberately indifferent to his back pain in violation of his constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishments. Gabb also sued Wexford, the private company that provided medical services at Lawrence. The district court rejected the claims on summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Gabb has not presented any evidence showing the defendants caused him any harm. The lack of evidence of what the “better” treatments were and whether they would have been effective would leave a jury entirely to its own imagination about what could have been done. View "Gabb v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc." on Justia Law

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SC, an outpatient surgical center, permits outside physicians to perform day surgery at its facility. Its insurance limited APA’s liability to $1 million per claim. In 2002, Dr. Hasson, an outside physician, performed outpatient laparoscopic surgery on Tate at SC. Hasson did not see Tate or sign her discharge instructions before SC released her; SC’s anesthesiologist discharged Tate, giving Tate's boyfriend discharge instructions. Days later, Tate checked into the hospital with a perforated bowel that rendered the previously-healthy 34‐year‐old a quadriplegic. Tate sued Hasson and SC. APA hired attorneys to defend SC. APA set the “Reserve” (money the Michigan Department of Insurance required APA to put aside to cover an adverse verdict) at $560,000. APA believed the damages could exceed the policy limit but that SC was not likely to be found liable. In 2007, APA rejected Tate's offer to settle for policy limits. Hasson’s insurer settled for his policy limit ($1 million). After the Illinois Appellate Court remanded the issue of whether SC’s nursing staff breached the standard of care, APA raised the Reserve to $1 million, stating that it still believed the case was defensible. Before the second trial, APA rejected Tate's second settlement demand for the policy limit. The jury returned a $5.17 million verdict. SC then sued APA for bad faith. The Seventh Circuit affirmed judgment as a matter of law in favor of APA. SC did not establish that anyone involved in litigating the case believed there was more than a mere possibility SC would be found liable; the mere possibility of liability is insufficient under the Illinois Supreme Court’s reasonable probability standard. View "Surgery Center at 900 North Michigan Avenue, LLC v. American Physicians Assurance Corp., Inc." on Justia Law

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Gaston, an Illinois prisoner, first complained about pain in his left knee in May 2009. Drugs did not help. After some delay, Gaston saw an orthopedic surgeon in September 2010. An MRI exam was approved but not conducted until February 2011. In August 2011, Gaston had arthroscopic surgery. While Gaston’s left knee was healing, Wexford (the corporation that provides prison medical care) delayed approving an MRI of his right knee; one knee had to be sound before treatment of the other. In May 2012 Gaston had an MRI exam on the right knee. It showed serious problems. Another arthroscopic surgery occurred in October 2012. This did not bring relief. Arthroplasty (knee replacement) was delayed while specialists determined whether Gaston’s pulmonary and cardiology systems would handle the strain but took place in February 2015 and was successful. Gaston claimed that the delays while waiting for surgeries reflect deliberate indifference to his pain so that the pain became a form of unauthorized punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Defendants offered evidence that the delays could be chalked up to a preference for conservative treatment before surgery and never to any desire to injure Gaston or indifference to his pain. The district court granted summary judgment to the individual defendants, ruling that none acted (or delayed acting) with the state of mind required for culpability. The Seventh Circuit affirmed and affirmed judgment in favor of Wexford. Private corporations, when deemed to be state actors in suits under 42 U.S.C. 1983, are not subject to vicarious liability. Wexford could be liable for its own unconstitutional policies, but the policies to which Gaston pointed, reflected medical judgment rather than a constitutional problem. View "Gaston v. Ghosh" on Justia Law

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Courtney had a CT scan performed at CDI’ diagnostic imaging facility. The radiologist, Webster, an independent contractor hired by MSC, missed Courtney’s rectal cancer. Courtney's cancer festered for over a year before being diagnosed, having metastasized to her lungs and liver. CDI claimed that it could not be held liable because CDI did not directly employ Webster. The district court rejected this argument and applied Indiana’s apparent agency precedent, which instructs that a medical provider is liable if a patient reasonably relied on its apparent authority over the wrongdoer. The jury returned a $15 million verdict. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, first explaining that CDI had not registered under Indiana’s Medical Malpractice Act, which limits liability for registered qualified health care providers and requires the presentation of a proposed complaint to a medical review panel before an action is commenced in court. MSC and Walker had registered as qualified health care providers, so the Websters had filed a complaint against them with the Indiana Department of Insurance. Courtney testified that she had no idea about the contractual relationships among MSC, CDI, and Dr. Walker and she was never provided information that the physician who would be interpreting her CT scan was not subject to CDI’s control or supervision. View "Webster v. CDI Indiana, LLC" on Justia Law

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Bard manufactures a surgical patch, consisting of two pieces of mesh that surround a flexible plastic ring. During a hernia repair, the patch is folded to fit through a small incision, then the plastic ring springs back into its original shape and flattens the mesh against the abdominal wall. Bard recalled several versions of the patch in 2005-2006 following reports that the plastic ring was defective. Sometimes the ring broke, exposing a sharp edge that could perforate the patient’s intestines. Other times the ring caused the patch to bend and warp, exposing the patch’s adhesive to a patient’s viscera. Before the recall, Bowersock underwent hernia repair surgery, involving a Bard patch. Roughly one year later, she died of complications arising from an abdominal-wall abscess. Her estate sued. Unlike defective patches in other injured patients, Bowersock’s patch did not adhere to her bowel or perforate her organs. Plaintiff's expert tried to present a new theory of causation: the patch had “buckled,” forming a stiff edge that rubbed against and imperceptibly perforated her internal organs. The court excluded that testimony, finding the “buckling” theory not sufficiently reliable. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defense. The novel theory of causation was not peer-reviewed, professionally presented, consistent with Bowersock’s medical records or autopsy, or substantiated by other cases. View "Robinson v. Davol, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2002, in Texas, Dr. Phillips performed a laparoscopic hysterectomy on Bramlett, a 36-year-old mother. While hospitalized, Bramlett suffered internal bleeding and died. Her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the hospital and Dr. Phillips, who held a $200,000 professional liability insurance policy with MedPro. He notified MedPro of the lawsuit. In 2003, the hospital settled with the Bramletts for approximately $2.3 million. The Bramletts wrote to Dr. Phillips’s attorney, Davidson, with a $200,000 Stowers demand; under Texas law, if an insurer rejects a plaintiff's demand that is within the insured’s policy limit and that a reasonably prudent insurer would accept, the insurer will later be liable for any amount awarded over the policy limit. MedPro twice refused to settle. The family won a $14 million verdict. The Supreme Court of Texas capped Dr. Phillips’s liability. The family sued MedPro, which settled. MedPro was insured by AISLIC, which declined to cover MedPro’s settlement. The district court granted AISLIC summary judgment, concluding that coverage was excluded because MedPro should have foreseen the family’s claim. An exclusion precluded coverage for “any claim arising out of any Wrongful Act” which occurred prior to June 30, 2005, if before that date MedPro “knew or could have reasonably foreseen that such Wrongful Act could lead to a claim.” The Seventh Circuit reversed in part, finding genuine issues of material fact regarding whether MedPro’s failure to settle was a Wrongful Act and whether MedPro could have foreseen a "claim" before the malpractice trial. View "Medical Protective Co. of Fort Wayne, Indiana v. American International Specialty Lines Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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McCann was severely burned while attempting to commit arson at his mother’s house and spent three weeks in the hospital before being released to police custody. McCann died from a doctor’s over-prescription of methadone while detained and awaiting trial at the Ogle County Correctional Center. His estate brought suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging deliberate indifference to McCann’s severe burn wounds and related medical needs. The treating physician and his private employer settled the claims. The district court entered summary judgment for the remaining defendants, concluding that the evidence did not show that any individual defendant acted with deliberate indifference. The Seventh Circuit subsequently replaced deliberate indifference with a standard requiring a showing of objective reasonableness for a claim challenging the medical care provided to a pretrial detainee like McCann. Measuring the record evidence under this new standard, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the award of summary judgment to the individual defendants and a determination that the record evidence did not support a claim for municipal liability against Ogle County under Monell. View "McCann v. Ogle County" on Justia Law

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Since entering the custody of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections in 2009, Wilson has sought medical treatment for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, neck and throat pain, and difficulty breathing and swallowing. He alleged that Oshkosh Correctional Institution's doctors were deliberately indifferent in their treatment of these ailments in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights. The district court found that no reasonable jury could find that the doctors were deliberately indifferent. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendants. Wilson failed to prove that he actually suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. None of the testing done at Oshkosh or at the Wisconsin Resource Center provided any evidence that Wilson suffered from a cognitive disorder. These disorders are difficult to identify and diagnose, but without such evidence, Wilson cannot show that he suffered a serious medical condition, let alone indifference in the treatment of that condition. The doctor did investigate Wilson’s mental health condition, referring him to a psychiatrist and a specialty center for extensive observation. The record is replete with evidence of the doctor’s attempts to diagnose the source of Wilson’s pain. He worked with endocrinologists, an otolaryngologist, a speech pathologist, a pulmonologist, a neurosurgeon, and a dentist. View "Wilson v. Adams" on Justia Law

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Owens began using Testim, a topical gel containing 1% testosterone, in July 2011 when his doctor diagnosed him with hypogonadism. Owens used Testim sporadically. Although the medication guide directs users to apply a full tube of Testim to the shoulders and arms, Owens would apply part of a tube to his thighs and stomach. In July 2013, Owens was admitted to a hospital for pain in his leg. An ultrasound revealed blood clots. He was diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Owens was treated with blood thinners and released the following day. Owens sued, asserting strict liability, negligence, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation under Kentucky law. Each claim requires expert testimony to establish causation. Owens’s case was selected for a bellwether trial in multidistrict litigation. Owens planned to rely on testimony by Dr. Abbas that Testim had caused Owens’s DVT. That opinion assumed that Owens was applying the prescribed dose in the proper manner. When asked during his deposition about hypothetical cases that resembled Owens’s use of Testim, Abbas had no opinion. The district court excluded the testimony and granted Auxilium summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The court properly applied the Daubert framework when excluding Abbas’s testimony. It did not abuse its discretion by concluding that the testimony did not fit the facts of Owens’s case or by failing to consider an argument Owens never presented. Without expert testimony on causation, Owens’s claims necessarily fail. View "Owens v. Auxilium Pharmaceuticals, Inc." on Justia Law