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I write this Blog mostly for people who interested in law, especially injury claims. I do a radio show on legal issues Saturday at Noon. If you want to hire a lawyer, call me at 217-789-1977 or email me.

The third district court of appeals made an interesting decision concerning inter-spousal immunity. In Hand versus Hand, the parties were coming back from a vacation in Florida. In Indiana, they were involved in a one car accident where William was driving. Patricia, his wife got hurt. They filed suit in Illinois, where they lived.

Indiana has a statute which says that a person cannot sue their spouse for personal injury involving the operation motor vehicle accident. Illinois law does not have such a law. In Illinois spouses can sue one another. This is obviously a suit to get the insurance money.

The defendant, probably the insurance company, asked the court to dismiss the case because of the Indiana law. The trial court allowed the motion to dismiss, applied Indiana law, and dismissed the plaintiff’s appeal.

Illinois law permits a plaintiff to dismiss his or her case and refile it later. Typically, plaintiff, often because they are missing a witness or have some other fatal flaw in their case, dismisses the case without prejudice. The plaintiff then has a year to refile the case. This is especially useful if you are missing a witness who cannot be found, but the judge will not continue the case.

This came up in a medical malpractice case entitled Freeman vs. Crays. In Freeman the plaintiff had hired a primary care doctor to testify that the defendant in the case should have referred plaintiff’s decedent to a cardiologist. The plaintiff did not hire a cardiologist to testify about what might have happened after the plaintiff’s decedent got cardiologist. In other words, it was unclear whether a referral to a cardiologist would have likely saved plaintiff’s decedent. It was also unclear what the likelihood was.

Right before trial the defense asked for directed findings because the plaintiff could not prove causation. The trial court that without a cardiologist plaintiff could not win, so plaintiff dismissed and refiled.

I had a great guest on the air on December 23, 2017. The podcast his here. I went to a seminar at the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association on medical malpractice to keep up my continuing legal education. One of the speakers was a former president of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association, Pete Flowers. He is one of the name partners in Meyers and Flowers. They handle all sorts of cases, including medical neglect, and a fair amount of medical product liability, and other things.

As he got up to speak he was introduced as having settled a case for $1 billion. After the seminar, I talked to Pete in the bar; I know him through my association and work on the board of managers of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association. He told me that the speaker had made a mistake. He had 3 cases that settled for a billion dollars. I was fascinated. Billion-dollar settlements are a rare thing. To have one is remarkable, to have three is really striking. So, I asked Pete to be on the air.

The first case that we talked about in the air was a train wreck case. I had never heard of the Lac – Megantic rail disaster. Peter explained that the disaster was a Canadian train wreck. The train was carrying the fracked oil, which is highly flammable. The two people who were operating the train both left the train, but failed to put the brakes on properly. As you might imagine, the train began rolling. It rolled 7 miles before it came to be town of Lac – Megantic, a small town with about 6,000 people in it. The train jumped the tracks, spilled oil through the lake, and basically blew up the town. Just short of 50 people died. Canadian law caps noneconomic damages at somewhere in the $250,000 to $326,000 range. Pete filed suit trying to get jurisdiction in Chicago, the train went through a great deal of United States and the defendant was located in Chicago. He was successful. He managed to get much more than the low Canadian cap for the loved ones of the victims who died.

The courts in Dukich vs.Illinois Worker’s Compensation Commission recently misapplied, in my opinion, the law, as it applies to falls on premises. The losses previously been that wherever there is a fall on premises, so long as it arises from a defect, like snow, or ice, that the fall is compensable. This often occurs as people are coming to and going from work. Dukich acknowledges these cases but makes a strange distinction. The worker was going to lunch when she fell in a parking lot that was wet from rain. The arbitrator awarded benefits. The Worker’s Compensation commission reversed the finding of the arbitrator and denied benefits. The appellate court affirmed the Worker’s Compensation Commission. The appellate court questioned whether the rain was the sole reason for the fall, suggesting that the claimant’s shoes might have had something to do with it.

The court found that work did not increase the risk the plaintiff would fall. This is questionable finding. The plaintiff would not have been at the worksite which was wet had it not been for work. While it is possible the plaintiff would have gotten wet somewhere else, he would not have been forced to do so by his employer.

The court distinguishes falls on ice and snow from water caused by rain. This is not a reasonable distinction. Both ice and water are the same compound. One is a little more slippery than the other, but that is all. Both fall from the sky and land on an employer’s property, increasing the risk that people get hurt.

Claim Splitting

The appellate court addressed claims splitting in Dinerstein vs. Evanston Athletic Clubs, Inc. In Dinerstein the plaintiff filed suit involving an injury at a health club. The injury occurred when plaintiff was climbing a rock-climbing wall and fell. Plaintiff filed suit alleging negligence, willful or wanton misconduct, and loss of consortium.

Before climbing the wall plaintiff signed a release which indicated that plaintiff would not sue defendant for negligence. The court granted a motion to dismiss the negligence counts based on that agreement. The court then refused to allow an appeal of that particular issue pending the resolution of trial, denied the motion to reconsider, and continue the case on the other two counts.

Government entities are generally allowed immunity on many torts. This makes filing suit against a county or municipal government difficult. An example of that is Monson vs. City of Danville.

In Monson the plaintiff fell on property owned by the City of Danville. She had left a store in the downtown district and was walking to her car when she walked into an inch of water that had formed on the side-walk by land. As she walked to the water she felt her left shoe strike something which caused her to fall. She suffered injuries for which she sued the city. Her injury occurred on December 7, 2012.

The city’s superintendent of downtown services was responsible for maintaining the sidewalks. She walked the downtown district and painted places she believed required repair. After that the city’s engineer toured the area to discuss what needs to be done to the sidewalks. This occurred a year before the injury in 2011.

HR 1215 advancing through the house, the subject of medical neglect to come up again. HR 15 would limit noneconomic damages to $250,000 on medical neglect claims throughout the country. This would affect states’ rights to decide their own law about medical liability by taking away the right to make a decision. The bill is call the Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017. Always remember, whenever you read the title of a bill, it does the opposite of what you might suggest. This bill protects medical providers from their bad actions.

With the radio show a couple of weeks ago we had some spirited debate about the issue. A younger medical intern had questions and we had a really good discussion about the issues. After that, an older doctor called up to was very pro-tort reform. He argued that there is too much defensive medicine and so the government should cap damages in medical neglect suits. He argued that there is some evidence that 85 billion could be saved by capping defensive medicine, as if capping damages will suddenly get rid of all defensive medicine.  Here is a link to the podcast.

There are a couple of things I would say in response to the older gentleman. Concerning defensive medicine, the New England Journal of Medicine says caps cause little effect on defensive medicine.   He also argued that many people are sued when they should not be. Presumably his friends have told him that they had been sued in cases that lack merit. I have no doubt many doctors say such things regularly. Howver, Illinois does have a certificate of merit for medical neglect claims which requires a doctor to certify that there is malpractice before the suit can proceed.

In Barry v St Mary’s Hospital the Plaintiff treated at Defendant – St Mary’s – for injuries he sustained in a car wreck. The defendant asserted 3 liens against the Plaintiff’s personal injury claim which he had against a third party who was not involved in this case. The defendant eventually submitted two of the three bills to Plaintiff’s health insurance.  The third remained a lien on the Plaintiff’s personal injury case.

Plaintiff filed suit against St Mary’s claiming several things, including consumer fraud, third party beneficiary, and breach of contract. In this lawsuit, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant must submit the medical bills to his health insurer. Refusal to do that was breach of contract and tortious.

The court rejected the Plaintiff’s claim.  It held that neither the Lien Act or any contract required the medical provider to submit bills to the health insurer. It could maintain its lien against the case and refuse to bill the health insurer. Claims for breach of contract and tort could not lie.

There has been little guidance from the courts in Illinois about electronic discovery.  The Illinois Supreme Court has changed the rules a little bit to accommodate electronic issues. But for the most part we treat electronic discovery the same way we treat paper discovery. Facebook posts are discoverable to some extent and get used in the courts. Electronic documents are discoverable under the discovery rules.

The appellate courts are slow to get cases because unless a litigant wants to take the time and money fighting about it the issues frequently just get resolved at the trial courts, without appellate review.

However, the appellate court recently got a shot to make some law in the case entitled Carlson v Jerousek 2016 IL.App (2d) 151248. The case got to the appellate court in the normal way for a discovery issue.  The plaintiff took a friendly contempt after the court ordered him to comply with its order. The court had ordered that the defense could do a forensic image of all his 5 computers.

The court in Steak and Shake vs the Worker’s Compensation Commission addressed what is now a common issue in politics. Groups in Illinois wish to limit liability for workers’ compensation claims by only allowing the case to be compensable if it is the “primary cause” of the condition. This naturally sounds reasonable to people in the public. Why shouldn’t the primary cause be the test?

What people fail to appreciate is that “primary cause” in workers’ compensation claims really means eliminating aggravations of pre-existing injuries as claims. The Steak and Shake case is it is a good example of why suing “primary cause” as a test is unreasonable to older claimants and eliminates legitimate claims involving pre-existing condition conditions.

In Steak and Shake vs. Illinois Worker’s Compensation Commission the petitioner was the manager for Steak and Shake. She was busing tables to keep customer flow moving. As she was wiping down the table she felt and heard a large pop in her right hand. She immediately felt excruciating pain that began in her thumb and radiated across her hand.