Articles Posted in Federal Civil Procedure

In 2011, a radiologist with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) missed identifying a cancerous mass in the liver of James Avery Deweese. Before the mass was finally diagnosed as cancerous in 2013, it had nearly doubled in size. Deweese died shortly thereafter.

The family of Deweese — through an administrator of his estate — brought a survival and wrongful-death claim against the United States pursuant to the Federal Torts Claims Act (FTCA). 28 U.S.C. ¶1346(b)(1).

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment for the government holding that although the VA failed to deliver the standard of care in correctly diagnosing and treating Deweese’s cancer, the evidence presented by the Deweese family was insufficient to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether the VA’s negligence proximately caused the plaintiff’s damages and subsequent death.
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In 2009, Gary Williamson was a postal worker who sought damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for medical malpractice on the part of the Department of Veteran Affairs in the treatment of injuries he suffered in his right foot. Williamson usually worked a walking route, walking up to 8 miles each day on the job. He was also doing other physical activities, including running and CrossFit, which could have contributed to the severity of his injury.

Because of his injuries, Williamson eventually received benefits under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA): $79,379.66 in temporary total disability net compensation from March 20, 2010 through Oct. 25, 2012; $27,801.27 for medical expenses; and $19,974.19 as a lump-sum “scheduled award.” This federal statute is the federal law for workers injured on the job. This is the federal version of the workers’ compensation act that most states have, including Illinois.

In addition to the benefits he was receiving by way of FECA, Williamson sought damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act for medical malpractice by the V.A. for the treatment of his injuries, which included two unsuccessful surgeries. The U.S. District Court judge denied the government’s motion for summary judgment. On appeal, the Sixth Circuit reversed that order, denying the motion for summary judgment.
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This appeal is from the district court’s dismissal, on statute of limitations grounds, of a medical malpractice lawsuit. The plaintiff, Johnnie Watkins, filed the action on behalf of her adult daughter, Johnnice Ford, who is a disabled person. The lawsuit alleged that Ford sought treatment at the emergency room of Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Chicago where she was treated by a doctor who was an employee of Family Christian Health Center. This facility was operated pursuant to grant money from the Public Health Services, an agency of the U.S. government. The lawsuit was brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), and the United States is the defendant.

In the lawsuit, it was asserted that the treating physician chose not to correctly diagnose and treat Ford who was eventually correctly diagnosed with Wernicke’s encephalopathy and who sustained neurological injuries, including permanent disability. Encephalopathy is a general term that describes a disease that damages the brain. Wernicke’s encephalopathy is a neurodegenerative disorder caused by a severe vitamin B1 deficiency. Parts of the brain may be damaged as a result of this deficiency causing increased difficulty with memory, movement, vision and coordination.

The federal district court judge dismissed the lawsuit that was filed beyond the relevant statute of limitations. Watkins appealed that dismissal order to the U.S. Court of Appeals.
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This case concerned the first of over 500 cases regarding the Wright Medical Conserve “metal-on-metal” hip replacement device designed and manufactured by the defendant. The plaintiff filed a products liability suit alleging, among other things, that the defendant was liable for design defects based on strict liability and negligence.

On appeal, the defendant challenged the entry of a $2,100,000 judgment. The court rejected the defendant’s argument that the district court erred in ordering the jury to continue deliberations after the jury had already begun to deliver its verdict.

In this case, upon recognizing the inconsistency in the jury verdict, the district court immediately halted publication of the verdict and instructed the jury that an error had been made; the district court acted in a neutral and non-biased manner in acknowledging and addressing the inconsistent verdict; and the district court also recharged the jury.
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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago has overturned a summary judgment order that was entered by a U.S. District Court judge over whether an insurance company, Sun Life & Health Insurance Co. (U.S.), should pay death benefits to the husband of the plaintiff when he died after tearing his left Achilles tendon.

Sun Life had moved for summary judgment claiming it was not responsible for paying the $92,000 death benefit to Lee Ann Prather, the wife of the decedent, Jeremy Prather. Prather injured his Achilles tendon while playing basketball. About two weeks after his surgery to repair the tendon, he died at age 31. A blood clot, or deep vein thrombosis (DVT) developed in his injured leg and had broken loose and traveled to his lung. The clot or pulmonary embolism caused cardiac arrest and his subsequent death.

Sun Life declined to pay the $92,000 benefit on the ground that Prather’s injury on the basketball court was not the sole cause of his death. Instead, Sun Life argued that the surgery that Prather underwent following the injury was a contributing factor to his death.
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In a recent article appearing in the Harvard Law Record, the title of the article says it all: “Civil Trials Are Fast Becoming Extinct.”  Civil jury trials and bench trials have seen a dramatic decline since 1986. This trend has followed in both state and federal courts and includes criminal cases as well.

The article, written by Frank J. Riccio D.M.D., J.D., wrote that there are no reasons why civil jury trials have become so infrequent. Some say that the Rules of Civil Procedure have encouraged lawyers and clients to engage in pretrial discovery in attempts to settle cases rather than prepare cases for trial. The trend began in the late 1980s when liberal discovery rules went into effect, although the decline began years before.  Nothing particular happened that made trying jury cases more expensive than in the past.

The jury trial decline in federal courts coincides with the Supreme Court’s 1986 decisions instructing trial courts to grant summary judgments unless the plaintiff proves the probability of the allegations.

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In this case before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were examined closely with respect to a subpoenaed nonparty deposition. The court stated that nonparties will be protected by undue burden and that, in weighing requests to depose nonparties, courts will consider four factors:

  1. The person’s nonparty status;
  2. Relevance of discovery sought;
  3. Need for discovery; and
  4. Breadths of the request.

In this case, the plaintiff Prabhjot Uppal graduated as a physician from Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in 2005.  He obtained a residency at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.

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In Illinois it is well-settled law that prohibits defendants and their lawyers from communicating with treating physicians without the consent of the patient. In this case, plaintiffs sued five pharmaceutical companies in federal court where it was claimed they were injured by testosterone-replacement products.

In this multidistrict litigation case, one of the defendants, AbbVie Inc. requested that the federal court trial judge bar attorneys on both sides from having pre-deposition contacts with treating physicians of plaintiffs.

In the opinion written by U.S. District Judge Mathew F. Kennelly, the court, following Illinois law, stated that either side’s counsel may interview a witness and prepare him or her for the deposition by previewing the questions that may be asked, reviewing relevant documents and so on. There is nothing at all improper about this.  Indeed, adequate witness preparation is a key of good trial (and deposition) preparation.  In short there is no prohibition of pre-deposition of pre-testimony contact between a lawyer and the ordinary fact witness.

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In what appears to be a change in 100 years of law, the 11th U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta has ruled that Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines can be successfully sued for medical malpractice by passengers who have been negligently injured or killed by the ship medical providers.

The federal appeals court refused to reconsider the decision that essentially opens the doors for cruise ship passengers to sue cruise lines for medical malpractice.

In a hearing that was held in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, Ga., the appeals court rejected a bid by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines to revisit its ruling. The court noted that none of the 11th circuit judges voted in support of reconsideration.

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John Dux was alleged to have committed suicide because of a medical-malpractice incident at the Hines Veterans Administration Hospital in Maywood, Ill. The lawsuit brought by his daughter was filed against the United States government under the Federal Tort Claims Act, which included a claim for wrongful death.

The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The U.S. district judge who considered the case had to decide whether Illinois precedent on proximate causation blocked the wrongful-death claim.

With two exceptions, Illinois follows the traditional rule that “a plaintiff may not recover for a decedent’s suicide following a tortious act because suicide is an independent intervening event that the tortfeasor cannot be expected to foresee.” Luss v. Village of Forest Park, 377 Ill.App.3d 318 (2007).

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