Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Wilmotte v. National Railroad Passenger Corp.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

January 9, 2020

BLAINE WILMOTTE and MADISON WILMOTTE, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION d/b/a AMTRAK, Defendant. DALE SKYLLINGSTAD, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION d/b/a AMTRAK, Defendant

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR A NEW TRIAL OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE REMITTITUR

          Benjamin H. Settle United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant National Railroad Passenger Corporation d/b/a Amtrak's (“Amtrak”) motion for new trial or in the alternative remittitur. Dkt. 142. The Court has considered the pleadings filed in support of and in opposition to the motion and the remainder of the file and hereby grants the motion in part and denies it in part for the reasons stated herein.

         I. PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         On January 4, 2018, Plaintiffs Blaine (“Blaine”) and Madison (“Madison”) Wilmotte (collectively “Wilmottes”) filed a complaint for damages against Amtrak in King County Superior Court for the State of Washington. Dkt. 1-2. On January 19, 2018, Amtrak removed the matter to this Court. Dkt. 1.

         On May 3, 2018, Dale Skyllingstad (“Skyllingstad”) filed a complaint for damages against Amtrak. C18-0684BHS, Dkt. 1.

         On December 12, 2018, the Court granted the parties' stipulated motion to consolidate these matters for trial with a similar matter, Harris v. National Railroad Passenger Corporation, C18-0134 (“Harris”), Dkt. 38.

         All three cases stem from the derailment of Amtrak 501 on December 18, 2017. Skyllingstad was a passenger on the train and sustained serious injuries when he was thrown from the train landing on the interstate below the point of derailment. Blaine was a passenger in a vehicle driving on the interstate and sustained serious injuries when a train car fell onto the vehicle. Madison asserted a claim for loss of consortium. Amtrak admitted liability, and the issues at trial were each plaintiff's damages.

         On August 20, 2019, the Court held a pretrial conference. Dkt. 96. Trial commenced on September 3, 2019 and lasted for eight days. On September 13, 2019, the jury returned a verdict as follows: Skyllingstad - past and future economic damages of $700, 000 and past and future noneconomic damages of $7, 000, 000; Blaine - past and future economic damages of $1, 000, 000 and past and future noneconomic damages of $6, 000, 000; and Madison - past and future loss of consortium damages of $2, 000, 000. Dkt. 126.

         On October 11, 2019, Amtrak filed the instant motion for a new trial or in the alternative remittitur. Dkt. 142. On October 28, 2019, Plaintiffs responded. Dkt. 147. On November 11, 2019, Amtrak replied. Dkt. 150.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. New Trial

         The “court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues-and to any party . . . after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(a)(1)(A). “Rule 59 does not specify the grounds on which a motion for new trial may be granted.” Molski v. M.J. Cable, Inc., 481 F.3d 724, 729 (9th Cir. 2007). Rather, the court is “bound by those grounds that have been historically recognized.” Id. “Historically recognized grounds include, but are not limited to, claims ‘that the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, that the damages are excessive, or that, for other reasons, the trial was not fair to the party moving.'” Id. (citation omitted).

         In this case, Amtrak's motion for a new trial is based on (1) an excessive verdict as a result of consolidating the matters, (2) misconduct by Plaintiffs' counsel, and (3) errors by the Court. Dkt. 142 at 4-20.

         1. Consolidated Trial

         Amtrak argues that it suffered prejudice from the consolidation. Although Amtrak fails to elaborate on this alleged prejudice, it contends that consolidation led to an excessive verdict. On that issue, the Court must apply state law in determining whether damages awarded on a state law claim are excessive. Cosby v. AutoZone, Inc., 445 Fed.Appx. 914, 916 (9th Cir. 2011). In Washington, courts are authorized by statute to order a new trial if “the damages awarded by a jury . . . [ are] so excessive or inadequate as unmistakably to indicate that the amount thereof must have been the result of passion or prejudice.” RCW 4.76.030. In addition to “passion or prejudice, ” Washington courts recognize as grounds for a new trial that the damages either “are outside the range of substantial evidence in the record” or “shock the conscience of the court.” Green v. McAllister, 103 Wn.App. 452, 462 (2000).

         First, Amtrak objects to the “Court's consolidation of Plaintiffs' separate and very distinct damage claims . . . .” Dkt. 142 at 6. Contrary to Amtrak's description of consolidation, the Court granted the parties' stipulated motion to consolidate. Harris, Dkt. 38. Now, Amtrak implies that the Court should have sua sponte denied that stipulation. Amtrak provides no authority, and the Court is unaware of any, for the proposition that the Court either committed legal error or abused its discretion in granting the parties' stipulated motion to consolidate three cases in which the “parties believe[d] . . . involve[d] similar claims and counsel . . . .” Id. at 1. Moreover, Amtrak fails to cite any actual objection to consolidation during trial. It even admits that it only “expressed growing concerns at the pretrial conference and during the course of trial . . . .” Dkt. 142 at 7. Amtrak fails to establish that a “growing concern” constitutes an actual objection. Therefore, the Court concludes that Amtrak waived any objection to consolidation and denies the motion on this issue.

         Second, Amtrak argues that it was prejudiced by Plaintiffs' presentation of evidence and the consolidated closing arguments. Dkt. 142 at 4-6. Specifically, Amtrak states as follows:

[Plaintiffs' counsel] chose to: (i) start their case by introducing, in no particular sequence, the medical evidence supporting the Plaintiffs' damage claims, (ii) put plaintiffs on the witness stand as their very last witnesses before resting, rather than start with a plaintiff's testimony, followed immediately by the medical evidence supporting that plaintiff's damage claims; and (iii) in closing argument, treat Blaine Wilmotte and Dale Skyllingstad as basically entitled to the same noneconomic damages, despite the very distinct experiences each had and the injuries each sustained as a result of the derailment.

Id. at 5-6. Amtrak fails to establish that parties must present evidence in a particular manner such that failure to follow that procedure results in prejudicial confusion. The Court routinely accepts evidence “out of order” for the convenience of parties and witnesses on the premise that jurors will comprehend the entire story even if it is presented in a slightly disjointed manner. Regardless, Amtrak fails to establish any prejudice in Plaintiffs' presentation of evidence. Instead, Amtrak works backwards from the premise of an unfairly inflated verdict to conclude that somehow the jury must have been confused. Working forward, the Court found no error in Plaintiffs' presentation then and finds none now. Moreover, Amtrak fails to cite any objection ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.