Accusations fly as Holland America Line accuses cruise passenger who won $21.5 million verdict of lying, tampering with witnesses and perpetrating fraud on a federal court
Holland America Line in Seattle is asking a federal judge to throw out a huge $21.5 million verdict won by an Illinois businessman injured by a sliding-glass door during a world cruise, accusing him of lying, destroying evidence, witness tampering and suborning perjury.
James Hausman, a former gold and precious metals dealer who suffered a serious head injury while aboard the M/S Amsterdam in November 2011, has fired back with a scathing attack on Holland America Line’s key witness — his disgruntled former personal assistant. Hausman says the assistant tried to extort him after she was fired for allegedly forging a $2,000 check.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein has scheduled a hearing on the cruise line’s allegations of misconduct Wednesday.
The Oct. 30 verdict in Hausman’s personal-injury lawsuit against Holland American Line (HAL) was among the largest in recent memory in Seattle federal court, and included $16.5 million in punitive damages.
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Hausman’s lawyers produced evidence at trial that dozens of other passengers had been injured in similar sliding-door incidents across the HAL fleet due to faulty sensor settings, according to court documents and testimony in the case.
In addition to the punitive damages, Hausman, 61, was awarded $5 million for past and future pain, suffering and emotional distress. According to his attorney, Rick Friedman, Hausman suffers memory loss, vertigo and seizures as a result of the injury but was able to complete the 280-day world cruise.
The verdict was handed down by a unanimous eight-member jury after a nine-day trial.
Holland America Line, headquartered in Seattle, has filed hundreds of pages of documents and exhibits showing, it claims, that Hausman deleted emails that had been ordered turned over in the litigation, fabricated evidence about his injury, tampered with a witness and hid the amount of alcohol he routinely consumed.
HAL’s attorneys say they were unaware of the alleged misconduct until after the trial, when Hausman’s former personal assistant, Amy Mizeur, of Springfield, Ill., came forward.
Mizeur claims Hausman told her to lie about his marriage, ordered her to delete emails and said he was faking some of his symptoms. She said in a sworn affidavit that Hausman “spent considerable time researching seizures and watching Internet videos of people having seizures,” according to HAL’s motion.
“He said he wanted to see what seizures looked like,” she wrote.
She also said the Hausman often drove after the accident, but told her to tell everyone that she was driving because he didn’t want people to know he was capable of driving long distances since it undercut his claim that the headaches and seizures from his injury had impacted his life.
“Mr. Hausman … engaged in a willful, knowing and sinister effort to conceal emails that might damage his case,” wrote HAL attorney Louise Shields.
“This misconduct allowed plaintiff to present the jury a picture of impairment and disability, of ‘pain and suffering’ and ‘loss of enjoyment of life’ that was false, fabricated and the central element of the massive fraud committed in this Western District of Washington Court,” Shields wrote.
In response, Hausman has filed hundreds of pages of sworn declarations attacking Mizeur’s motives and challenging her claims. Holland America Line was aware of many of her allegations, wrote lawyer Kenneth Friedman, and nothing she says rises to the level of throwing out the jury’s verdict, dismissing the lawsuit or ordering a new trial.
Mizeur’s claims are contradicted by the evidence, other witnesses and her own statements before trial, Friedman wrote, and is “also colored by Ms. Mizeur’s extreme bias and misconduct, including unsuccessful extortion attempts.”
Hausman’s lawyers point out that Mizeur was questioned but never formerly deposed by attorneys in the case, and did not appear as a trial witness.
“Thus, whether she lied before trial, or is lying now, the jury was not influenced by her testimony,” Friedman wrote in a biting response.
Court documents alleged Hausman fired Mizeur as his assistant when she forged a check to herself, and then blamed Hausman for her plight.
The pleadings state she wrote to Hausman, stating she was left with “no choice.”
“I asked for you to pay me off like you have the rest of the people you have [expletive] over in this world. You aren’t willing to do that? Then I will make sure everyone including your wife and child know everything I know about you. And that is not going to be pretty,” she reportedly wrote.
In ordering a hearing on the matter, Judge Rothstein has said she wants the attorneys to be prepared to address the allegations of deleted emails particularly.