There is an extraordinary verdict of of Seattle where Illinois businessman James R. Hausman was awarded $21.5 million in damages after he suffered minor brain injury when he was struck in the head by a sliding-glass door on the Holland America cruise line’s Pacific fleet flagship, the M/S Amsterdam. The videotape below does not exactly scream out liability, let alone massive punitive damages, but the unanimous 8-person jury clearly view the company as ignoring repeated injuries to dozens of passengers from the doors on various ships. The defense proved to the jury’s satisfaction that the company had shortened the time for the doors to remain open — allegedly to save money on air conditioning.
Hausman, 61, a gold and precious-metals retailer was awarded $5 million for past and future pain, suffering and emotional distress. He said that the accident caused him memory loss, vertigo and seizures as a result of the injury. However, the videotape shows him walking away from the incident and he was able to complete the 280-day world cruise. He was on his way to Amsterdam with his wife, daughter and a tutor. The ship had left Seattle in September 2011 and was approaching Honolulu, when Hausman and his wife left the ship’s penthouse to walk to a pool. He is shown below hitting the door. It seems like he walks into the door that was beginning to close. While the ship’s doctor diagnosed a concussion and “post-concussion” syndrome, he was later diagnosed with “minor traumatic brain injury.”
His lawyer argued that the company “suppressed” documentation for as many as 34 other sliding-door incidents throughout its fleet for three years, including two incidents where passengers broke their hips and another where one suffered a back injury. That evidence was allowed in by U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein.
The most damaging evidence was the testimony of experts that automatically closing doors should have been closing on someone in this way — leading the defense to argue that the doors were manipulated by the company to save on air conditioning by closing faster. His counsel argued that the motion sensors on the doors set to open at the last moment and close within half a second after the sensors stopped detecting motion — that would be against the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Here is the collision from the ship:
Putting aside the question of whether this is truly negligence on the part of the company, my main concern is the size of this verdict. I have seen severely disabled victims receive a fraction of such damages. Clearly, it is possible to suffer minor brain damage and to walk away. However, $5 million in compensatory damages seems quite high for the injuries claimed. The punitive award further magnifies those concerns about the size of the damages vis-à-vis the actual injury and alleged misconduct.
What do you think?