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Arpin v. United States - 521 F.3d 769 (7th Cir. 2008)

Rule:

When a federal judge is the trier of fact, he, unlike a jury, is required to explain the grounds of his decision. Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(a). This means, when the issue is the amount of damages, that the judge must indicate the reasoning process that connects the evidence to the conclusion.

Facts:

The decedent, Ronald Arpin, age 54, who was diabetic and overweight, fell while working at his job as a welder and landed heavily and painfully on his right hip. After experiencing severe pain and other symptoms, he was taken to the Belleville Family Practice Clinic ("Clinic"), which was operated jointly by defendants United States Air Force and St. Louis University ("University"). The decedent was examined by a second-year resident, Dr. Asra Khan, who was employed by the University. After a brief examination, Khan concluded that the decedent had a muscle strain. She refused the family's request for an MRI, prescribed no medication, and did not ask her supervising physician ("preceptor"), Dr. James Haynes, an air force officer, to examine the decedent. After several weeks, the decedent died. Consequently, his wife, plaintiff Jeannine Arpin, as administrator of the decedent's estate, filed a lawsuit in federal district court for wrongful death arising from defendants' alleged medical malpractice. After a bench trial, the district judge awarded the Arpin damages in excess of $ 8 million, consisting of some $ 500,000 for medical care and lost wages, $ 750,000 for pain and suffering, and $ 7 million for loss of consortium by her and the couple's four children. Defendants appealed, challenging both the finding of liability and the amount of damages awarded for loss of consortium.

Issue:

Did the district judge err in: (i) finding that defendants liable for the decedent's death, or; for (ii) awarding $ 7 million in damages for loss of consortium?

Answer:

(i) No; (ii) Yes.

Conclusion:

The appellate court affirmed the district judge's finding that there was liability stemming from defendants' actions. It was not error for the district judge to find that they failed in their standard of care. As to the damages for loss of consortium, however, the court held that the district judge failed to sufficiently articulate the basis for the $7 million award. According to the court, while one could sympathize with the inability of the district judge to say more than he did in justification of the damages that he assessed for loss of consortium, the figures were plucked out of the air, and that procedure could not be squared with the duty of reasoned, articulate adjudication imposed by Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(a).

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