A federal judge recently threw out a $21.5 million jury verdict awarded to a man from Springfield, IL who claimed he was injured in an around-the-world cruise in 2011, when the man’s former assistant came forward and admitted the man had intentionally deleted emails that may have been detrimental to his case. United States District Court Judge, Barbara Rothstein ordered a new trial, noting that the assistant’s admission exposed “grave inconsistencies” in the man’s story of dizziness and seizures after an automatic sliding glass door struck his head while aboard the cruise ship.
The injured cruiser sued the cruise operator, Holland America, in 2013, and was awarded $21.5 million in damages; but soon after the judgment, a former personal assistant came forward claiming that she had seen the plaintiff spend several days deleting emails that should have been turned over to Holland America’s lawyers prior to trial.
Judge Rothstein held a hearing last month to address the former assistant’s statements, and found them credible, writing:
“As a witness, [the plaintiff] came across evasive and untrustworthy. He appeared to weigh each answer, not for its truthfulness, but to assess whether it would damage his case. [He] … 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.”
The former assistant was able to recover some of the emails she had been instructed to delete, and these cast considerable doubt on the believability of the rest of the injured man’s credibility. For example, the man testified he avoided the use of ladders after the accident due to his fear of falling, but then commented in a subsequent email that he was sore after spending most of the day on a ladder using a fire ax to chop ice over the front porch of his house.
Success in litigation is not about lying, hiding relevant information or exaggerating. This case highlights the importance of candor and the role of the judge in our jury trial system. By design, our system includes checks [cheques?] and balances making it hard for people to get away with hiding evidence, bending the truth or lying under oath. While the man is entitled to a new trial, it will be interesting to see if he exercises this right knowing evidence he unfairly hid damaging emails will be considered.
David Rapoport is the founding and managing partner of Rapoport Law Offices. In his over 31 years as a full time trial attorney, he has won numerous multi-million dollar jury verdicts and settlements in personal injury and wrongful death cases. Mr. Rapoport is a member of the invitation only American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA), an association of premier trial attorneys who are dedicated to preserving the right to trial by jury. ABOTA's general mission is "to foster improvement in the ethical and technical standards of practice in the field of advocacy to the end that individual litigants may receive more effective representation and the general public be benefited by more efficient administration of justice consistent with time-tested and traditional principles of litigation." For over 20 years Martindale-Hubbell, through its Peer Review RatingsTM program, has consistently ranked David Rapoport as AV® PreeminentTM, its highest professional rating. This is a testament to Mr. Rapoport's abilities as an attorney and commitment to maintaining the highest ethical standards. Mr. Rapoport has also been selected by Thompson Reuters, another prominent legal publisher, as an Illinois “Super Lawyer” every year since the inception of the Super Lawyer program. Super Lawyer designation is limited to the top 5 percent of lawyers in a state in any given year. Since 1990, David Rapoport has been board certified* in Civil Trial Advocacy by the National Board of Trial Advocacy ("NBTA"), the oldest and largest not-for-profit American Bar Association accredited trial attorney certification program. Attorneys with NBTA certification have proven ability in their field through specialized written examinations and meeting rigorous criteria for trial experience and ethical ratings. Mr. Rapoport has proven his currency and substantial trial experience through NBTA recertification in 1995, 2000, 2005 and 2010. David Rapoport has served as a leader of the movement to encourage board certification for trial lawyers for more than twenty years. Currently he is the President of the National Board of Trial Advocacy and its parent organization the National Board of Legal Specialty Certification. He recently explained: "In this era of Wild West style minimally regulated lawyer advertising, it has never been more important for the public to have easy and reliable means of identifying members of the small fraction of practicing attorneys who truly have substantial experience trying cases. Board certification programs help consumers of legal services make more informed choices. Too many lawyers are out there claiming to have substantial trial experience when in truth they have never tried a case. Board certified trial lawyers have proven their substantial trial experience in ways the public can trust." Mr. Rapoport is a member of the President's Club and Leader's Forum of the American Association for Justice and the state trial lawyer associations in Illinois, Wisconsin and Kentucky. He is also a member of the Economic Club of Chicago. * Board certification is not required to practice law in Illinois and the Illinois Supreme Court does not recognize specialties in the practice of law.