A federal judge in Seattle threw out a $21.5 million jury verdict that was entered in favor of an Illinois man who claimed he was injured during an around-the-world cruise in 2011. The jury’s verdict was thrown out when the individual’s former assistant came forward to say that he had intentionally deleted e-mails that could have hurt the man’s case.
The federal district court judge ordered a new trial saying that she found the assistant’s testimony at a hearing last month credible and that newly uncovered e-mails exposed “grave inconsistencies” with the injured Illinois resident, James R. Hausman’s story.
He lives in Springfield, Ill. He sued Seattle-based Holland America Line, the cruise line company, in 2013. Hausman claimed that he suffered dizziness and seizures after an automatic sliding glass door improperly closed and struck his head as the ship approached its port in Honolulu, Hawaii.
After a two-week jury trial in October 2015, the jury’s verdict was entered for $21.5 million. But soon afterward, Hausman’s former personal assistant came forward to say that she had watched Hausman spend several days deleting e-mails that he should have turned over to Holland America’s lawyers before the jury trial and during discovery.
It was also claimed that Hausman chose not to disclose the existence of one of his e-mail accounts. The personal assistant worked for Hausman at The Gold Center, a precious metals dealer in Springfield. The allegations prompted the federal court judge to hold a hearing last month. The judge found that the assistant’s statements were credible and her former boss’s testimony was not.
“As a witness, he [Hausman] came across evasive and untrustworthy,” the judge said. He added, “He appeared to weigh each answer, not for its truthfulness, but to assess whether it would damage his case. Mr. Hausman also seemed to capitalize on his alleged brain injury when it was convenient for him. He was confused or claimed memory loss when confronted with a question or exhibit that appeared to undermine his claims, yet was animated and full of information when his testimony supported his case.”
At trial, Hausman testified that since his injury, he avoids using ladders because he is afraid of falling. But in one of the deleted e-mails, he wrote to his assistant saying he was sore after spending most of the day on a 10-foot ladder using a fire axe to chop ice that had built up over the front porch of his house. The judge also noted that she did not believe Hausman’s claims that he did not delete the e-mails to frustrate Holland America’s defense, but simply as part of his routine practice of clearing out his inbox. The actions were deliberate and “substantially interfered with defendants’ ability to fully and fairly prepare for and proceed to trial.”
Hausman portrayed his assistant during the hearing as a disgruntled former employee who had been fired for forging a check. But the judge accepted the assistant’s explanation for why she signed Hausman’s name to the check – that he had given her permission to do so.
Hausman also said that his assistant had tried to extort him for money. She testified that she was simply shocked about having been accused of forgery and fired when she sent him a message suggesting that she would ruin his life if he didn’t pay her off. One of Hausman’s lawyers, Richard Friedman, called the decision “frustrating and disappointing” but said it cannot be appealed.
“I’ve done a lot of retrials in my time, and often the verdict the second time around is bigger than the first,” Friedman said. Holland’s attorney’s comments were that the company looked forward to the opportunity to present the case, including the most recent evidence in which this ruling was based. No trial date has been set.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling catastrophic injury cases, construction site injury cases, product liability cases, pharmaceutical injury cases and medical negligence cases for individuals and families who have been injured or killed by the negligence of another for more than 40 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas including, Alsip, Worth, Blue Island, Grayslake, Crystal Lake, Schiller Park, Stickney, Berwyn, Crete, Beecher, Wheaton, Elgin, Orland Park, Lemont, Chicago (Chinatown, Canaryville, North Town, Pill Hill, Oz Park, Sheffield, South Shore, Irving Park, Hyde Park, Horner Park, Garfield Ridge, Craigin, Greek Town, Little Italy, Wrigleyville, Printers Row), Lake Forest, Lockport, Park Ridge and Round Lake Beach, Ill.
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