Seattle Jury Awards Man $21.5 Million For Being Hit By Automatic Door On A Holland America Cruise

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 7.20.05 PMThere 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?

41 thoughts on “Seattle Jury Awards Man $21.5 Million For Being Hit By Automatic Door On A Holland America Cruise”

  1. Well, no loss of consciousness. No, fractured malar (cheekbone). Walked away easily enough. I’ve been hit harder by tennis balls playing at the net. My award were I a jury member $0.00.

  2. Dude was lucky. Soon regs will require only brief openings bc of climate change. But there will be no cause of action. We’ll sit there waiting stampedes when doors do open. Unless they whipe our memories out we can say remember when….

  3. Afraid it is true. Ironic isn’t it. JT and most here demand free speech. Too bad Annie made too many here uncomfortable, therefore her free speech had to go. Haven’t you noticed Spinelli’s comment about how pleasant it has been for the last two weeks? That wasn’t idle small talk.

  4. Bob

    I hope that isn’t true.

    I kinda like my theory better–that she’s merely soaking up some sun on a desolate warm beach, drinking something with a tiny umbrella in it and too busy to comment.

    Where’s Squeeky?

    Everyone’s playing hookie. 🙂

  5. What do I think? Simple. We shouldn’t second guess the jury without first knowing all of the facts. But the video alone is damaging (pun intended).

  6. Curious on a few facts, Professor. What were his special damages (e.g. medical bills future and past, lost income, etc.)? What was the nature of the disability? What symptoms has he experienced or will experience? What is the nature and extent of any cognitive disability suffered, past and future? Basically, a recitation of damages that all young lawyers are taught to use in evaluating a case would be helpful.

    Instead, this appears to be a summary of a defense case that lost, quite badly, when tested at trial.

  7. What happened to Annie?

    Hope she’s ok.

    Hey, Annie, you’re not on a honeymoon with po, are you?


  8. Thanks Darren for that clip (and for pointing out the Atari sounds)


    > These cases have become all too common. And, these plaintiffs ask for 6-7 figures in damages. Surveillance is effective because the plaintiff is making physical complaints about their back and neck, activities they can no longer perform because of the “life changing” accident.

    If you haven’t seen it, 1966: The Fortune Cookie
    The salient part is at 1:15

  9. bam, It looks like security camera footage to me. There may be another camera[s] positioned to take another angle of the doorway. There’s probably an interior camera or two as well.

  10. I’m curious, given the exorbitant amount requested and the alleged personal injury claimed, I couldn’t help but wonder:

    How, and, perhaps, why, was this incident recorded? A mere fluke, in that an unsuspecting fellow passenger just happened to get this on his phone, while attempting to capture nothing of any significance? This episode was, obviously, caught on tape, but who–or what–captured this? Is this footage obtained from a security camera or, perhaps, was there some person waiting to document this purported “accident” for future reference? Would a security camera, necessarily, be mounted and angled to capture this one, specific–but not so significant– doorway on the cruise ship or was this filmed by another passenger?

    Is it just me?

  11. I have worked cases, being assigned to do surveillance on a plaintiff, where there was a rear end collision w/ NO DAMAGE to the vehicles. These cases have become all too common. And, these plaintiffs ask for 6-7 figures in damages. Surveillance is effective because the plaintiff is making physical complaints about their back and neck, activities they can no longer perform because of the “life changing” accident.

    The type of case presented here are some of the most difficult to defend from a damages standpoint. The damages and complaints of loss of ability to perform as one did prior to the accident are vague and nebulous. I have been assigned surveillance in cases like this. What is needed first is much discovery from the plaintiff’s docs on how they have been affected cognitively and psychologically. Then, the deposition of the plaintiff is key. My client, the defense attorney, has to try and get as specific as possible things the plaintiff can no longer do. A common complaint in these type cases are the ability to focus. Short term memory, forgetting where you parked your car, or even how to get back home. A person will say they can’t read a newspaper article w/o losing their train of thought. Often they’ll claim something dramatic like an inability to drive a vehicle. Then, my difficult task is to prove via video that these claims are false. I’ve worked 8-10 carbon monoxide exposure cases that produce plaintiffs w/ these type of vague complaints. These are the types of surveillance where I will watch a plaintiff periodically over a year or even years. Sometimes, surveillance is about the only defense you have in these cases.

    After seeing the video of the accident, it would appear this case was lost w/ jury selection. Anyone w/ common sense knows this was not a severe injury. Considering this is from the formerly great state of Washington, it is no surprise. Darren shows us about every weekend the folks there have taken a sharp left turn off the main road and are driving in the ditch.

  12. Doesn’t appear, from the video, as though something as insignificant as a mere concussion and possible brain damage were going to stop him from proceeding on to indulge in the on-deck buffet.

  13. I am automatically against automatic doors of any kind. Maybe a spring on a screen door. Next Trump will want an automatic door on that Wall he is going to build on the Mexican border. It will bang those astardBays on the head when they try to come back in.

  14. I think you might be on to something Æ with the swoosh sound. The passenger failed to use the proper verbal command to open the doors. The jury should have considered contributory negligence: As an aside, Atari-800 geeks might recognize the sound of Atari 810 floppy drive I/O sounds at 0:19–a touching sound effect.

  15. We’ve known since the early sixties that automatic doors when opening or closing need to make an audible “swoosh”.

    Here is a short documentary from NHTSA showing what happens when doors don’t make that audible swoosh.

    In the clip you’ve posted, I don’t hear that audible swoosh. With a $21.5M verdict Holland America Cruise will reconsider not putting in the audible swoosh.

  16. I am not a big fan of cruise lines, but even they deserve some fairness. This is way out of line for the injuries suffered. The punitive award was likewise outrageous, and I predict it will be overturned on appeal. Awards like this is what killed the US aviation industry. At least Clinton was able to push for some tort reform and some modest production of US made aircraft resulted from it.

  17. I think the jury was trying to get the attention of the shipping line. If Holland America Cruise has another such accident the punitive award will be twice as high.

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