A jury in a federal injury lawsuit has awarded $21.5 million in damages to a vacationing businessman from Illinois who suffered injury aboard a cruise ship owned by defendant Holland America that was sailing around the world in 280 days. Plaintiff suffered a minor brain injury when he was struck in the head by the sliding glass door.
That may seem like an astronomical sum, but part of the reason it was so high was because the jury awarded $16.5 million in punitive damages.
In Florida, per F.S. 768.72, punitive damages in a civil lawsuit can only be claimed where a defendant acts with either:
- Intentional misconduct
- Gross Negligence
In this case, according to news reports, attorneys for plaintiff presented evidence that not only was defendant aware that a number of sliding glass doors on its fleet had faulty sensors, but there were dozens of reports of injuries suffered by other passengers under similar circumstances.
The evidence showed plaintiff was a precious metals retailer who was aboard the ship with his wife, daughter and daughter’s tutor. They were on the beginning leg of the journey, having traveled to Russia, China and a number of other Southeast Asian Countries. As the ship approached Hawaii, plaintiff and his wife were walking to a pool. He followed a number of crew members who were walking through a pair of sliding glass doors. Suddenly, the doors shut on him, striking him in the face and in the head.
There was video of the incident, although defense lawyers tried to argue plaintiff walked into the doors as they were closing.
Initially, a doctor aboard the ship examined plaintiff and diagnosed him with a chipped tooth and facial bruise. However in a subsequent exam, doctor updated his report to indicate plaintiff suffered from a concussion and post-concussion syndrome. According to the Mayo Clinic, this is a complex disorder with many symptoms, including headaches and dizziness, that can last for weeks or months. Loss of consciousness is not necessarily involved.
Plaintiff presented evidence that neurological tests performed later showed he had in fact suffered a mild traumatic brain injury, which has resulted in seizures, vertigo, memory problems and more that have continued to present day. His attorneys noted he often “loses track” of his thoughts and repeats himself frequently. Tasks that were once seemingly simple have now become an ordeal, his injury lawyers argued.
Although defense insisted this was a unique situation, plaintiff lawyers were able to produce evidence of at least 34 other incidents involving sliding glass doors throughout a fleet of ships dating back three years. Two passengers suffered broken hips and another suffered a back injury. Plaintiff argued defense had attempted to conceal this information. The U.S. District judge allowed evidence of 16 of those cases to be heard by jurors, after deeming those particular cases relevant.
Specifically at issue were the sensors on the doors, which are supposed to detect when people are approaching and stay open until there is no further movement detected. Experts testifying for plaintiffs characterized a sliding glass door striking someone as a “never event,” meaning it should never happen if the doors are properly manufactured and maintained. Yet time after time, these doors struck people, sometimes resulting in serious injury. Yet defense did nothing to address this issue, plaintiffs argued. This, they posited, was a form of gross negligence.
Jurors unanimously, after a nine-day trial and eight-hour deliberation, agreed.
Our Boca Raton injury lawyers know that while not every civil injury lawsuit is ripe for punitive damages, it is important to consider the possibility where there is evidence a defendant repeatedly ignored safety issues where it had a duty to act.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (888) 751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
$21.5M verdict follows repeat injuries from Holland America ships’ doors, Nov. 11, 2015, By Mike Carter, Seattle Times
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