Trials & Litigation

Judge tosses $21.5M verdict for cruise-ship door injury, cites deleted emails

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A federal judge in Seattle has vacated a $21.5 million verdict awarded to a man injured by a closing cruise-ship door in 2011, saying he deleted emails that should have been produced in discovery.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein tossed the verdict for James Hausman on Monday and ordered a new trial, the Associated Press reports. She ruled (PDF) after Hausman’s former personal assistant, Amy Mizeur, contacted the defendant, Holland America, and said Hausman had deleted emails sought by the cruise line and had failed to disclose a personal email account.

The verdict, awarded in October, had included $16.5 million in punitive damages. Hausman had claimed an automatic sliding door closed while he was walking through it, hitting him in the temple. He claimed the injury caused vertigo, mental lapses and seizures. Trial evidence included accounts of 16 previous sliding-door incidents on Holland America ships.

During the trial, Hausman had testified he avoids using ladders because of his vertigo. But in one of the emails Mizeur recovered from her computer, Hausman talks about using a ladder and a fire ax to chop ice off the front porch of his house. She also testified at an evidentiary hearing on the emails that she saw Hausman carry heavy bags of coins, luggage and metal shelving at his Springfield, Illinois, precious metals business, The Gold Center.

Hausman had maintained Mizeur was a disgruntled employee fired for forging a check from his personal account. Rothstein found more credible Mizeur’s testimony that she had permission to write the check, and Hausman had previously allowed her to write a check to herself. Mizeur also testified that Hausman frequently gave her cash, sometimes slipping as much as $5,000 in her purse. She did admit, however, that she threatened to ruin Hausman’s life after her firing.

Mizeur testified that Hausman panicked and became angry upon learning the cruise line was seeking emails with words such as seizure, sex, love, relationship, HAL and doors. She said she saw him deleting the emails. The court ultimately ordered Hausman to produce emails with the words injury, cruise, lawsuit, sue, litigation, door, seizure[s], headache[s], dizzy, dizziness, vertigo, Holland/HAL, not the same and automatic door (along with variations of automatic door).

Rothstein’s order includes a footnote saying she was “in no way suggesting” that Hausman’s lawyers were involved in the misdeeds. “To the contrary,” she wrote, “plaintiff’s counsel displayed professionalism and integrity throughout this litigation.”

One of Hausman’s lawyers, Richard Friedman, told AP he found the decision frustrating and disappointing. “I’ve done a lot of retrials in my time, and often the verdict the second time around is bigger than the first,” he said.

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