Taft Wins Reversal of $8 Million Verdict

Taft successfully argued for the reversal of a jury verdict awarding $8 million in damages to former inmate William Dean, who alleged his Eighth Amendment rights were violated when Wexford Health Sources, Inc. (Wexford) and two of its doctors delayed treatment for liver cancer, holding that the inmate failed to prove that his constitutional rights were violated. Accordingly, the Seventh Circuit entered judgment in favor of Taft client Wexford and the doctors on the Eighth Amendment claims.

At trial, Dean alleged that Wexford and the doctors were negligent and violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment in treating him while he was an inmate at Taylorville Correctional Center in Illinois, for which Wexford provided medical services. Specifically, Dean alleged that the diagnosis and treatment of his kidney cancer was delayed due to the doctors’ failure to arrange timely offsite care and due to Wexford’s collegial review policy, which generally requires the preapproval of offsite care. In December 2019, a jury found in Dean’s favor, awarding him $1 million in compensatory damages and more than $10 million in punitive damages on his claims for negligence and Eighth Amendment violations against Wexford and the doctors.

After trial, the district court reduced the punitive damages award to $7 million. Wexford and the doctors then retained Taft to represent them on appeal, challenging the jury’s verdict on the Eighth Amendment claims. Dean cross-appealed, seeking to revive the $10 million damages award initially awarded by the jury.

In an 86-page decision issued on Nov. 10, 2021, the panel majority reversed the jury’s finding that Wexford and the doctors violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment in its treatment of Dean. The Seventh Circuit found that Dean failed to produce enough evidence at trial to hold either Wexford or the doctors liable for violating his Eighth Amendment rights. The Seventh Circuit further held that the claims against Wexford at trial improperly hinged on the Lippert reports – two expert reports from another case that critique the medical care that Illinois provides to its prisoners through Wexford. A new jury must now reassess the issue of damages for the negligence claims against Wexford and the doctors.

Wexford and the doctors were represented by Taft Chicago lawyers Tim Eaton, Elizabeth Babbitt, and Nicollette Khuans on appeal.

The case is Dean v. Wexford Health Sources Inc. et al., case number 20-3058, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. A link to the opinion can be found here.

Eaton has a distinguished career in commercial and appellate litigation, as well as arbitration, and has been involved in a number of high-profile cases. He has handled hundreds of appeals before the Illinois Supreme Court, Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and the Appellate Court of Illinois. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers.

Babbitt is an accomplished business litigator and a member of the Taft executive committee. She has significant experience leading large and small corporations, public utilities, and municipalities through complex litigation and disputes in both federal and state courts.

Khuans is an associate in Taft's litigation practice group. 

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