A Washington State ferry worker who was permanently injured at work when a passenger gangway collapsed at the Port of Bellingham has passed the first hurdle in having a 16 million dollar jury verdict in her favor affirmed. On July 6, 2016 United States Federal District Court Judge Marsha Pechman issued an order denying the Port of Bellingham’s motion to set aside the jury verdict. The Port of Bellingham’s list of claimed errors in the case were each reviewed and dismissed by Judge Pechman.. The Court found that the Port of Bellingham presented no new evidence or arguments to warrant setting aside the verdict or to grant the Port’s request for a new trial.
The Port of Bellingham attacked four jury instructions given in the case by Judge Pechman, however, Judge Pechman dismissed these claimed errors pointing out that the instructions were Washington State pattern jury instructions routinely given cases throughout Washington State.
The Port of Bellingham also argued that the 16-million-dollar verdict was the result of the jury’s passion or prejudice and so large as to be shockingly outside the range of evidence. The Court rejected these arguments of the Port citing Washington case law which states that “damage awards should not be overturned unless they are clearly outside the range of substantial evidence in the record” and the Court held that the case did not fall into this category. The Court noted that there is a strong presumption in favor of the correctness of a jury verdict.
During arguments to the Jury the injured ferry worker’s attorneys used the phrase “conscience of the community” to describe the jury’s role in deciding the case. The Court again rejected the Port’s contention that this phrase was improper argument warranting a new trial. Judge Pechman held that the “conscience of the community” type arguments have been long permitted by Washington State Courts. Furthermore, Judge Pechman dismissed the Port of Bellingham’s arguments that the jury had been invited by plaintiff’s counsel to disregard the jury instructions, stating the record reflects no instances where plaintiff counsel made such arguments.
In holding the 16 million damage award to be proper, Judge Pechman noted that the general damage awards for pain and suffering, and loss of consortium, were less than two times the economic damages found to be just by the jury. The Port of Bellingham continues to pursue an appeal of the jury’s verdict in this matter. The case which started in Washington State Court, lasted for over 18 months in Federal District Court in Seattle concluding in an 8-day jury trial. The pleadings, files and records in the case can be found at Shannon Adamson v. Port of Bellingham, U.S. Dist. Ct. W.D. Wash. Cause No. C14-1804-MJP.