Justia U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Injury Law
Smith v. LexisNexis Screening Sols., Inc.
David Alan Smith’s employer, Tasson, was sold to Great Lakes Wine and Spirits. Former Tasson employees were not guaranteed a position with Great Lakes. Each employee had to apply for a Great Lakes job. Smith applied for the position of delivery driver, the position he had at Tasson. Great Lakes contracted with LexisNexis to carry out criminal history checks for employment applicants. Great Lakes provided Lexis with Smith’s date of birth but not his middle name. Lexis’s check returned a fraud conviction of a man named David Oscar Smith, resulting in six weeks’ delay in Smith’s being hired. Lexis had requested, but not required, the input of a middle name, and did not cross-reference the criminal history report with a credit report that showed Smith’s middle initial. Smith sued under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), 15 U.S.C. 1681e(b). Following a jury trial, the court awarded Smith $75,000 in compensatory damages for six weeks of lost wages, emotional distress, and harm to his reputation, plus $150,000 in punitive damages. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. Although a reasonable jury could conclude that Lexis negligently violated the FCRA by not requiring Smith’s middle name, there was not sufficient evidence of willfulness to support punitive damages. View "Smith v. LexisNexis Screening Sols., Inc." on Justia Law
Black v. Dixie Consumer Prods., LLC
Black drove a truck for Western, one of 48 freight service providers that carry raw paper to Dixie’s Bowling Green factory. Black parked the truck, containing 41,214 pounds of pulpboard rolls, separated by 10-lb. rubber mats. Black received permission from Chinn, the Dixie forklift operator, to enter the loading dock. It was “[c]ommon practice” for the truck driver to unload the rubber mats so that the Dixie forklift operator did not “have to get off each time.” Chinn and Black got “into a rhythm” in unloading the materials until Chinn ran over Black’s foot with the forklift, leading to a below-the-knee amputation of Black’s leg. Black received workers’ compensation from Western, then filed a tort action against Dixie, seeking $1,850,000. Following a remand, the district court denied Dixie summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that the Kentucky Workers’ Compensation Act barred Black’s claims, Ky. Rev. Stat. 342.610(2), .690. The work Black was doing as part and parcel of what Dixie does; a worker injured in this setting will receive compensation regardless of fault by a company in Dixie’s shoes or one in Western’s shoes. The immunity from a further lawsuit applies as well. This burden and benefit are the trade-offs built into any workers’ compensation system. View "Black v. Dixie Consumer Prods., LLC" on Justia Law
Applebaum v. Target Corp.
Applebaum bought a Schwinn mountain bike from Target. The bike had been previously returned. Applebaum claims, and Target denies, that a defective brake was repaired before the bike was resold. Minutes into her first ride, Applebaum fell off the bike at the bottom of a hill and injured her shoulder. A passerby came to Applebaum’s assistance, showed her that the rear brakes had clamped down on the tire, and released the brakes so that the bike could be wheeled back to Applebaum’s car. She returned the bike and claims she left it at Target. Target denies having the bike, which has not been located. She sued Target, alleging it negligently sold her a brake-defective bike. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the jury’s verdict, in favor of Target. The court rejected claims that the evidence did not support the verdict; the court mistakenly excluded, as hearsay, correspondence between a claims examiner and the company that repairs bikes for Target; and the court mistakenly limited the scope of an adverse inference instruction relating to the spoliation of evidence by the defendant. View "Applebaum v. Target Corp." on Justia Law
Posted in: Injury Law
Hefferan v. Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Inc.
The American husband and German wife have lived together in Germany since 2002. They sought damages for complications that arose when a surgical stapler manufactured in Mexico by an American corporation, Ethicon, allegedly malfunctioned during a 2012 surgery that husband underwent in Germany. An Ohio district court dismissed on the ground of forum non conveniens in favor of litigating in Germany. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Where a district court has considered all relevant public- and private-interest factors, and has reasonably balanced those factors, its decision deserves substantial deference. Private-interest factors include the relative ease of access to sources of proof; availability of compulsory process and the cost of obtaining witnesses; possibility of view of premises, id appropriate; and all other practical problems. Public-interest factors include administrative difficulties from court congestion; the local interest in the controversy’; the interest in having the trial in a forum that is at home with the law that governs the action; and the unfairness of burdening citizens in an unrelated forum with jury duty. The court here correctly concluded that Ethicon met its burden of showing that if the case remained in Ohio, the vexation it would endure and trouble to the court would be disproportionate to the plaintiffs’ minimal convenience. View "Hefferan v. Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Inc." on Justia Law
Smith v. Joy Techs., Inc.
While working amidst a high-wall mining (HWM) system at Southern Coal’s Harlan County mine, Smith, disengaging a conveyor car from the system, inadvertently placed his foot in a “pinch point” that existed between a hydraulic pusher used to launch cars into the mine and an outer guide rail on the mining platform. When the hydraulic pusher was prematurely activated by another worker, it crushed Smith’s foot against the guide rail. The injury resulted in the amputation of his lower left leg. In Smith’s suit, alleging negligence and strict liability for defective design and failure to warn, a jury returned a verdict in favor of the HWM manufacturer (Joy). The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting Smith's arguments that the district court erred by instructing the jury that Joy could be liable for negligent failure to warn only if Smith was unaware of the danger he faced and regarding a rebuttable presumption of nondefectiveness. The court declined a request to certify to the Kentucky Supreme Court questions of state law concerning both of those jury instructions. View "Smith v. Joy Techs., Inc." on Justia Law
Hogan v. Jacobson
In 2011, Hogan sued the Life Insurance Company of North America for violating the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001, by denying her benefits claim under a disability insurance policy. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the grant of judgment against her. While appeal was pending, Hogan filed a state court suit against two nurses who worked for the Life Insurance Company and who had provided opinions regarding Hogan’s eligibility for benefits after reviewing her claim. Hogan carefully pleaded her claims in the second suit to avoid reference to the Life Insurance Company or ERISA, alleging only that the nurses committed negligence per se by giving medical advice without being licensed under Kentucky’s medical-licensure laws. The defendants removed the case to federal court on the basis of ERISA’s complete-preemptive effect. The district court denied Hogan’s attempts to remand the case to state court and later granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of remand and the dismissal. Hogan’s artfully pleaded state-law claims are simply claims for the wrongful denial of benefits under an ERISA plan that arise solely from the relationship created by that plan. The court denied defendants’ motion for sanctions on appeal because Hogan’s arguments were not frivolous. View "Hogan v. Jacobson" on Justia Law
Koprowski v. Baker
Inmate Koprowski was cleaning a fry hood in the prison's food-service area when he fell off a ladder and landed on his back. Koprowski lost feeling in his legs for several minutes and experienced severe pain when he stood up. He had difficulty walking for several days; intense pain persisted even while lying down. Koprowski alleges that medical staff treated his injuries as minor and temporary, thereby causing him unnecessary pain and further aggravating his condition, by delaying x-rays and refusing to perform an MRI, which would have shown that he had broken his back. Koprowski also claims that prison staff denied him access to specialized care, surgery, and ambulatory aids. Koprowski brought a “Bivens” suit against prison officials, alleging deliberate indifference. The court dismissed, finding that the Inmate Accident Compensation Act, 18 U.S.C. 4126(c), a workers’ compensation scheme for federal prisoners injured during the course of their prison employment, is the exclusive vehicle by which a federal inmate may receive compensation for injuries suffered during the course of prison employment. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The IACA does not displace this otherwise available claim just because the alleged unconstitutional conduct occurred in the context of prison employment. View "Koprowski v. Baker" on Justia Law
Edwards v. CSX Transp., Inc.
Edwards worked as a CSX train engineer for 31 years. He arrived at work on May 28, 2012, with an upset stomach. The bathroom in the lead locomotive was “nasty,” Edwards saw and smelled:“[U]rine, human waste, . . . [and] blue chemical” splattered all over the toilet and floor. Edwards sprayed disinfectant, closed the door, and started the trip. During a stop, about 80 miles and six hours later, Edwards’ nausea escalated. Unwilling to use a foul bathroom, he sprinted to a catwalk, outside of the locomotive. He threw up over the side. Then he vomited a second time and, in the process, fell over the handrail onto the ground below. He broke two of his vertebrae and cracked a rib, ending his career with CSX. Edwards sought damages under Federal Employers’ Liability Act, 45 U.S.C. 51; its regulations required CSX to keep its locomotive bathroom sanitary. On remand, CSX again obtained summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. CSX complied with the rules the day before Edwards’ injury, when it inspected and cleaned the bathroom; the regulations do not require railroads to ensure that the toilets are clean at any given moment between inspections. Edwards had abandoned his other negligence claims. View "Edwards v. CSX Transp., Inc." on Justia Law
Fakhouri v. Ober Gatlinburg, Inc.
Fakhouri, a resident of Michigan who uses a wheelchair, traveled to Tennessee for a vacation in summer, 2012. She visited Ober Gatlinburg, a ski resort that also has a year-round amusement park, restaurant, lounge, and shopping center alongside the ski paths and mountain trails. To bring visitors to and from the ski area and associated attractions, Ober Gatlinburg operates a tramway, which Fakhouri rode without incident up the mountain when she arrived at the site. When she tried to enter the tram for her return trip, her wheelchair caught on the tram, breaking one of the wheels and causing her leg to buckle underneath the chair. She sought medical treatment for injuries to her leg and neck, and she continues to experience swelling, weakness, poor blood flow, and discoloration in the affected leg. The district court rejected her negligence suit on summary judgment, relying on a Tennessee statute that precludes liability for ski resort operators under certain conditions. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Fakhouri’s lawsuit was precluded because she was a “skier or passenger,” Ober Gatlinburg is a “ski area operator,” and her injuries “aris[e] out of” her “use of any passenger tramways associated with Alpine or downhill skiing.” View "Fakhouri v. Ober Gatlinburg, Inc." on Justia Law
Szeinbach v. Ohio State Univ.
OSU hired Szeinbach in 1999 as a tenured professor in the College of Pharmacy, which then included doctors Vazquez (of Spanish origin) and Balkrishnan (of Indian origin). In 2005-2006, Szeinbach allegedly observed Balkrishnan and others discriminate against Seoane and that Balkrishnan favored Indian students. Szeinbach emailed the dean, stating that an evaluation of Seoane was “intentionally very biased.” Seoane filed an EEOC charge. Szeinbach later alleged that she had supported Seoane’s efforts by providing a copy of her email to the dean. She filed an internal complaint, alleging retaliation for her support of Seoane. In 2007 Balkrishnan wrote to the Primary Care Respiratory Journal, claiming that an article that Szeinbach had published was nearly identical to an article that Szeinbach had published in 2005. Balkrishnan sent similar correspondence to the dean and others and filed an internal complaint. A Committee concluded that Szeinbach’s use of and failure to cite her 2005 article demonstrated the “poorest of scholarly practices,” but closed its investigation. Balkrishnan continued to pursue the matter and, in a faculty meeting, called Szeinbach a “bitch.” In her suit for discrimination and retaliation under Title VII, the jury awarded her $300,000 in damages for emotional suffering and harm to her professional reputation and $213,368 to account for income that Szeinbach allegedly would have earned absent OSU’s illegal conduct. The court reduced Szeinbach’s damages by $213,368. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, finding her evidence “wholly speculative.” View "Szeinbach v. Ohio State Univ." on Justia Law