General damages award of $750,000 for seaman whose foot was crushed was excessive under maximum recovery rule as it was more than 133% of highest recovery had in Louisiana for similar injury. Employer was required to pay maintenance and cure for uncertain period of time since it was not known when seaman would reach maximum medical improvement.
TERRY LEJEUNE, Plaintiff-Appellee v. TRANSOCEAN OFFSHORE DEEPWATER DRILLING INC, Defendant-Appellant
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT
2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 22205
September 17, 2007, Filed
Appellant employer sought review of a judgment from the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, which entered a judgment of $ 1,800,000 in damages and maintenance and cure in favor of appellee seaman in his suit, brought pursuant to the Jones Act and general maritime law, to recover damages for an injury he suffered while working as a crew member on the employer’s drilling vessel.
A valve fell on the seaman’s foot, crushing his metatarsal bone and peroneal nerve, causing soft tissue injuries, and causing the seaman to suffer Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. On appeal, the court held that (1) the district court erred in admitting into evidence its own extrajudicial observations about the seaman’s significant pain, but the error was harmless because the district court’s decision was based on evidence that was properly admitted; (2) the general damages award of $ 750,000 was excessive under the maximum recovery rule because it was more than 133% of the highest recovery received in Louisiana for a similar injury; (3) the award of $ 744,108 for lost future wages had to be reversed because there was insufficient evidence to support the district court’s conclusion that the seaman would eventually be able to return only to part-time work, as such conclusion was based only on the seaman’s testimony that he could not sit or stand for very long; and (4) the district court did not err in requiring the employer to pay maintenance and cure for an uncertain period of time because it was not known when the seaman would reach maximum medical improvement.
The court ordered a remittitur of the general damages award to $ 400,000. The court reversed the award for future lost wages and remanded the matter for recalculation. The court reversed the future damages award as it pertained to costs for doctor visits and remanded the matter for recalculation. Finally, the court affirmed the future cure obligation.
Because no reasonable jury could have found that the authority unreasonably withheld maintenance and cure and the jury’s verdict was supported by the evidence, inter alia, the district court’s judgment in favor of the river and bay authority on the worker’s personal injury claim was affirmed.
JAN KOPACZ; CATHY KOPACZ v. DELAWARE RIVER AND BAY AUTHORITY; CRAIG SWETT, JAN KOPACZ v. DELAWARE RIVER AND BAY AUTHORITY, Jan D. Kopacz and Cathy Kopacz, Appellants.
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT
2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 21854
September 12, 2007, Opinion Filed
Appellant worker appealed from the order of the United States District Court for the District of Delaware which granted partial summary judgment in favor of appellee river and bay authority on the worker’s claims seeking damages for an injury that he alleged occurred when he was struck by a car while working aboard an authority ferry.
The worker argued that the district court erred, inter alia, in granting the authority’s motion for judgment as a matter of law as to compensatory damages, and denying attorney’s fees and costs and prejudgment interest. The record showed that the authority did not believe that the car accident that formed the basis for the worker’s claim occurred. There were no witnesses to the alleged accident besides the worker. The jury in fact found that the worker had not been struck and injured by the car. Thus, no reasonable jury could have found that the authority unreasonably withheld maintenance and cure and the jury’s verdict was supported by the evidence. In light of the appellate court’s finding that the authority did not act unreasonably in denying maintenance and cure, it affirmed the denial of attorneys’ fees and costs. Finally, the record showed the worker was paid sick and annual leave for all but just over a month of the period when he was found to be due maintenance and cure. Following trial, he was awarded maintenance, sick and annual leave, and medical expenses. On this record, awarding the worker prejudgment interest would have been punitive rather than compensatory.
The appellate court affirmed the judgment of the district court.
In a case in which a seaman sued the Washington State Ferries (WSF) after he was attacked and seriously injured by an intoxicated passenger, the trial court erred in narrowly construing WSF’s duty to protect its crew members from an intoxicated passenger and ignoring evidence supporting seaman’s Jones Act negligence and unseaworthiness claims.
Frank T. Caraska, Appellant, v. The Department of Transportation, Respondent.
COURT OF APPEALS OF WASHINGTON, DIVISION ONE
2007 Wash. App. LEXIS 2567
September 4, 2007, Filed
Appellant seaman filed a personal injury complaint against respondent Washington Department of Transportation Division of Washington State Ferries (WSF). A Washington trial court ruled that the seaman did not prove negligence under the Jones Act or unseaworthiness and dismissed the seaman’s lawsuit. The seaman appealed the dismissal.
The seaman was working aboard a passenger ferry when he was attacked and seriously injured by an intoxicated passenger. The instant court concluded that the trial court erred in narrowly construing the WSF’s duty to protect its crew members from an intoxicated passenger and ignoring evidence supporting the seaman’s Jones Act negligence and unseaworthiness claims. The WSF owed the seaman a duty to provide a safe place to work and had adopted a safety management system (SMS) policy addressing intoxicated and disorderly passengers to ensure the safety and wellbeing of passengers and crew. The trial court ignored language in the WSF’s SMS policy requiring ferry employees to contact the police and the ferry captain if an intoxicated passenger was disorderly, disruptive, or confrontational. In its findings of fact and conclusions of law, the trial court repeatedly focused only on whether the intoxicated passenger was acting in a threatening or aggressive manner. The trial court also erred in disregarding evidence at trial about whether the passenger was disorderly, disruptive, or confrontational.
The trial court’s decision to dismiss the seaman’s Jones Act and unseaworthiness claims was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings.
Judgment in favor of the claimant on his Jones Act claim and claim that the barge was unseaworthy, was affirmed because the angle irons posed a reasonably foreseeable danger, and the finder of fact could find that it was unreasonable to leave the angle irons painted the same color as the deck.
Donald Lee Hiltbruner, Respondent, v. Crowley Marine Services, Inc., Appellant.
COURT OF APPEALS OF WASHINGTON, DIVISION ONE
2007 Wash. App. LEXIS 2602
September 10, 2007, Filed
Appellant, claimant, sued respondent, barge owner, for negligence under the Jones Act and claimed the barge was unseaworthy. The parties stipulated to damages of $300,000 and tried the issue of liability. At the close of the claimant’s case, the owner moved for directed verdict (a judgment as a matter of law). The Washington trial court entered its findings of fact, conclusions of law, and judgment against the owner. The owner appealed.
The claimant was working on a barge. The barge had a metal plate called a spill rail, which prevented oil on the deck from spilling into the water. Triangular metal angle irons at regular intervals along the water side of the spill rail served to reinforce it along the length of the rail. The owner painted trip hazards with white paint, and the owner had never painted angle irons along the spill rail white. When the claimant hopped toward the barge deck, his momentum carried him into a shadowed area. As his foot landed in that area, it struck an angle iron, injuring his knee. The appellate court ruled that the trial court correctly determined the duty owed by the owner to the claimant, and did not error in implicitly denying the motion for judgment as a matter of law. The owner had a duty to provide the claimant with a safe place to work, the angle irons posed a reasonably foreseeable danger, and the finder of fact could find that it was unreasonable to leave the angle irons painted the same color as the deck. Also, the trial court did not err in concluding that the owner’s failure to paint the angle irons white made the barge unseaworthy.
The judgment was affirmed.
In a suit arising from a decedent’s exposure to asbestos, a damages award in favor of his estate was not excessive, and was properly based on general maritime, and not Virginia law. Further, given the failure by the decedent’s employer to comply with Virginia Supreme Court Rule 4:1(b)(4)(A)(i), testimony by the employer’s experts was properly limited.
JOHN CRANE, INC. v. WANDA T. JONES, ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF GARLAND F. JONES, JR.
SUPREME COURT OF VIRGINIA
2007 Va. LEXIS 113
September 14, 2007, Decided
In an action arising from a decedent’s exposure to asbestos, the Circuit Court of the City of Newport News (Virginia) granted a verdict in favor of the decedent’s estate, and entered a reduced damage award against the decedent’s employer to conform to the amount sought in the motion for judgment. The employer thus appealed.
The employer challenged the trial court’s refusal to set aside the jury verdict as excessive, evidentiary rulings regarding the testimony of another employee and two of its expert witnesses, and it asserted that the trial court should have applied Virginia law, rather than general maritime law. The instant court disagreed. First, maritime law applied, as: (1) the decedent’s inhalation of asbestos fibers while engaged in the repair and construction of vessels on navigable waters could have disrupted maritime commerce; and (2) during the time the decedent was exposed to asbestos-containing products, the employer marketed gaskets and packing material directly for the marine industry and advertised its products for marine engine and general ship use. Second, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in limiting the testimony by the employer’s experts, as it failed to adequately comply with Va. Sup. Ct. R. 4:1(b)(4)(A)(i). Finally, based on the instruction on damages and the evidence presented at trial, the verdict was not excessive or so out of proportion to the injuries suffered to suggest that it was not the product of a fair and impartial decision.
The judgment was affirmed.