United States District Court, S.D. Florida
CECILIA M. ALTONAGA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
CAUSE came before the Court upon Defendant, Royal
Caribbean Cruises, LTD.'s Rule 50(b) Motion for Judgment
as a Matter of Law (“JMOL Motion”) [ECF No. 161]
and Motion for New Trial or Remittitur (“New Trial
Motion”) [ECF No. 160]. The Court has carefully
considered the parties' written submissions,
record, and applicable law.
case involves claims arising out of the death of cruise ship
passenger, Richard J. Puchalski. (See generally
Amended Complaint [ECF No. 30]). Plaintiff, Laura Goodloe, is
Puchalski's daughter and the appointed personal
representative of his Estate. (See id. ¶ 2).
Defendant, Royal Caribbean, is a Liberian corporation with
its principal place of business in Miami, Florida. (See
id. ¶ 4).
31, 2016, Puchalski was a passenger on Royal Caribbean's
vessel, the Explorer of the Seas, which was docked in Juneau,
Alaska. (See id. ¶ 8). That morning, Puchalski
presented to the vessel's infirmary with shortness of
breath. (See id. ¶¶ 9-10). He was
evaluated by the vessel's physician, Dr. Amanda Saunders.
(See id. ¶ 10). After she performed an EKG, Dr.
Saunders prescribed and dispensed medications to Puchalski
but did not transfer him to a hospital ashore or perform any
further testing or evaluation. (See id.).
parties dispute the circumstances surrounding Puchalski's
departure from the medical facility. According to Plaintiff,
Puchalski was discharged by Dr. Saunders and returned to his
cabin relying on her advice. (See id. ¶ 11). In
contrast, Defendant asserted the affirmative defense of
comparative negligence, arguing Dr. Saunders did not agree
with Puchalski leaving the medical facility and that he did
so against her advice. (See Trial Tr. Day 4 [ECF No.
176] 91:10-92:8). Although Dr. Saunders' version of
events is not corroborated by her contemporaneous medical
records, Dr. Saunders stated she informed Defendant of these
circumstances during the litigation, in September or October
of 2018. (See Saunders' Dep. [ECF No.
84-1] 18:11-12). In any event, Dr. Saunders' version of
events was not disclosed to Plaintiff until her deposition,
less than two months before the trial.
pretrial motion for sanctions, Plaintiff argued Defendant
ambushed her by disclosing surprise testimony regarding
Puchalski's comparative negligence. (See
generally Mot. for Sanctions). Plaintiff stated Dr.
Saunders' testimony that Puchalski left the medical
facility against her advice was inconsistent with
Defendant's earlier discovery answers and the information
provided by Defendant's experts. (See id.
¶¶ 8-10). The Motion was referred to a magistrate
judge (see Order [ECF No. 75]), who found sanctions
were not justified but that Plaintiff could elicit testimony
as to the timing of Defendant's discovery and disclosure
to Plaintiff of Dr. Saunders' version of events.
(See Judge Goodman's Order [ECF No. 93]).
objected to the magistrate judge's Order (see
Objections [ECF No. 115]), and at the Pre-Trial Conference
argued it would be prejudicial to allow Plaintiff to question
Dr. Saunders regarding when she disclosed her recollection to
Defendant's counsel because the jury might fault defense
counsel for not providing this information to Plaintiff
earlier. (See Pretrial Conference Tr. 4:15-11:14).
The Court denied Defendant's objections, finding the
magistrate judge “was eminently correct in . . . the
balance that he struck and in how he resolved this difficult
issue.” (Id. 16:7-9 (alteration added)).
the disputed circumstances surrounding his exit from the
medical facility, Puchalski returned to his cabin and was
joined by his son, Cliff Puchalski. (See id.
¶¶ 11-12). When Puchalski rose to use the restroom,
he collapsed. (See id. ¶ 12). Cliff called the
vessel's emergency number, and two nurses arrived.
(See id.). Puchalski was then transported to the
onboard medical center. (See id.). That afternoon,
Puchalski was transferred to Bartlett Regional Hospital in
Juneau for further treatment. (See id. ¶¶
13-14). After assessment, Puchalski was airlifted to an ICU
in Anchorage, Alaska. (See id. ¶ 14).
Puchalski's condition deteriorated, and he passed away on
August 4, 2016. (See id. ¶ 15).
March 23, 2018, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit against Royal
Caribbean. (See Complaint [ECF No. 1]). The Amended
Complaint describes the two claims for relief as: (1)
Negligent Medical Care and Treatment Via Employees or Actual
Agents and (2) Negligence (Vicarious Liability of Royal
Caribbean based Upon Apparent Agency). (See Am.
pretrial Amended Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Experts
[ECF No. 48], Defendant argued Plaintiff's expert, Dr.
Kim Klancke, lacked the necessary qualifications to testify
on the issues. (See id. 6-11). The Court entered an
Order [ECF No. 63] denying the Amended Motion as to Dr.
Klancke. (See id. 1).
prior to trial, the parties filed trial briefs in support of
their respective positions on the applicable wrongful death
remedies in this action. (See Trial Briefs [ECF Nos.
130, 138]). At the pre-trial conference, the parties agreed
to have the Court to resolve the issue post-trial.
(See Pre-Trial Conference Tr. 17:1-24).
four-day jury trial concluded on March 7, 2019. (See
Trial Transcripts [ECF Nos. 176- 179]). On the second day of
the proceedings, Defendant asked the Court for a curative
instruction regarding Plaintiff's statements discussing
the absence of a Nurse Coatzee. (See Trial Tr. Day 2
296:9-23). The Court declined to issue a curative
instruction. (See id. 298:1-3).
close of Plaintiff's case-in-chief, Defendant moved for a
directed verdict under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a).
(See Trial Tr. Day 3 113:8-22). Once more, Defendant
argued Dr. Klancke lacked the qualifications to testify as to
the standard of care. (See id.). The Court again
denied the motion. (See id. 113:23-25).
the proceedings, Defendant moved for a mistrial after
Plaintiff briefly showed the jury and attempted to use
unadmitted evidence, referred to here as the un-redacted
“Providence Record, ” to impeach Defendant's
expert. (See id. 217:13-20). After hearing arguments
from the parties, the Court denied the motion but provided a
curative instruction. (See id. 228:17-20). At the
close of the evidence, Defendant renewed its motion for a
mistrial on this basis, which the Court again denied.
(See id. 251:19-252:20).
jury returned a verdict finding Defendant's negligence
was a legal cause of damage to Richard J. Puchalski.
(See Verdict [ECF No. 152] 1). The jury determined
Defendant was responsible for 70 percent of the damages and
awarded Plaintiff $265, 000 in medical expenses and $4, 800,
000 for loss of companionship and protection and for
Plaintiff's past and future pain and suffering. (See
id. 2). The Court entered Final Judgment [ECF No. 153]
in favor of Plaintiff and against Defendant in the amount of
$3, 384, 073.22. (See Final Judgment ¶ 2).
now asks the Court for judgment in its favor as a matter of
law, or alternatively to grant it a new trial. (See
generally JMOL Mot.; New Trial Mot.). If the Court
declines to grant either of these forms of relief, Defendant
requests the Court reduce the jury's award and limit
Plaintiff's recovery through remittitur. (See
New Trial Mot. 14-20).
Court first briefly considers Defendant's JMOL Motion,
followed by the New Trial Motion, including the request for a
remittitur of the Final Judgment.
renewed request for judgment as a matter of law is
straightforward: Defendant insists the verdict cannot be
sustained because Plaintiff presented no evidence from a
qualified medical expert on the applicable standard of care.
Defendant explains that as a cardiologist, Dr. Klancke lacks
the required expertise to testify as an expert in emergency
medicine. (See JMOL Mot. 3). According to Defendant,
because Plaintiff did not present a qualified medical expert
to testify as to the standard of care, breach, or causation,
the case should not have gone to the jury and it is entitled
to judgment as a matter of law notwithstanding the verdict.
(See id. 5-6).
position regarding Plaintiff's expert has been advanced
twice before. (See Am. Mot. to Strike Pl.'s
Experts 6-11; Trial Tr. Day 3 113:8-22). As explained, the
Court denied Defendant's motions each time. (See
December 21, 2018 Order 1; Trial Tr. Day 3 113:23-25).
Undeterred, Defendant again brings the same argument without
raising any issues not previously considered by the Court and
without offering any novel or revised legal arguments or
authorities. (See generally JMOL Mot.). Indeed, much
of the present JMOL Motion is identical to the previous
Amended Motion to Strike. (Compare Am. Mot. to
Strike Pl.'s Experts 9-11 with JMOL Mot. 3- 5).
arguments repeated in the present JMOL Motion are no more
persuasive now than they were before. The Court is satisfied
with its prior decisions on this issue for the reasons
previously articulated and consequently does not address the
JMOL Motion further. See Costa v. Sam's E.,
Inc., No. Civ. A. 11-0297-WS-N, 2012 WL 5386921, at *4
(S.D. Ala. Oct. 31, 2012) (“In the context of [a] Rule
50/Rule 59 Motion, no constructive purpose would be served by
the Court reiterating the reasoning and conclusions of [an
earlier] Order in detail. . . . Summary disposition of this
issue is warranted.” (alterations added; citations
New Trial Motion
motion for a new trial under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
59(a) may be granted “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). Although a
comprehensive list of the grounds for granting a new trial is
elusive, the Supreme Court has held that a motion for a new
trial may rest on the fact “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; and may raise questions of law arising out of alleged
substantial errors in admission or rejection of evidence or
instructions to the jury.” Montgomery Ward &
Co. v. Duncan, 311 U.S. 243, 251 (1940). “[W]hen
considering a motion for new trial, the trial judge may weigh
the evidence, but it is proper to grant the motion only if
the verdict is against the great, not just the greater,
weight of the evidence.” Ard v. Sw. Forest
Indus., 849 F.2d 517, 520 (11th Cir. 1988) (citing
Watts v. Great Atl. & Pac. Tea Co., Inc., 842
F.2d 307, 310 (11th Cir. 1988) (alteration added)).
New Trial Motion, Defendant asserts: (1) the Court's
rulings allowed Plaintiff to build the improper and
prejudicial theme at trial that Royal Caribbean was hiding
the truth from the jury (see New Trial Mot. 2-13);
(2) Dr. Klancke lacked the qualifications to testify as an
expert on the standard of care (see id. 13-14); and
(3) if a new trial is not granted, the Court should at least
order remittitur (see id. 14-20). The Court
addresses each argument in turn.
Improper and Prejudicial Themes at Trial
argues “various pretrial and trial rulings allowed
Plaintiff's counsel to build the powerful but improper
theme at trial that [Royal Caribbean] and its counsel was
[sic] keeping the truth from the jury.” (Id. 2
(alterations added)). The specific events complained about
are: (a) Plaintiff publishing to the jury prejudicial
evidence the parties agreed was inadmissible -- the
un-redacted Providence Record -- and then pouncing upon it in
closing argument (see id. 2-10); (b) Plaintiff
improperly commenting on Defendant's decision not to call
witnesses (see id. 10-11); and (c) addressing when
Dr. Saunders first informed counsel about Puchalski leaving
the medical facility against medical advice (see id.
Inadmissible Evidence Published to the Jury
argument regarding inadmissible evidence coming before the
jury involves Plaintiff showing the jury the un-redacted
Providence Record, a medical record from the Providence
Alaska Medical Center. According to Defendant, the parties
agreed before trial the Providence Record contained
inadmissible speculation regarding the cause of
Puchalski's death. (See id. 2). Nevertheless,
Plaintiff proceeded to show the un-redacted portion of the
Record to the jury, and Defendant objected and moved for a
mistrial. The Court denied the requested mistrial but
provided a curative instruction. (See New Trial Mot.
3 (citations omitted)).
insists its “core defense” was that the
medications prescribed and administered aboard the vessel
were proper. (Id.). The speculation of a
non-testifying, third-party who was not subject to
cross-examination purportedly undermined its defense by
allowing the jury to believe the shipboard physician
committed malpractice by administering inappropriate
medications. (See id.). Defendant states “the
extremely prejudicial nature of this surprise evidence cannot
be disputed, particularly as Plaintiff agreed to its
redaction from the exhibit pretrial.” (Id.).
addition to Plaintiff's publication of the un-redacted
Providence Record, Defendant accuses Plaintiff's counsel
of seizing upon the Court's ruling about his wrongful
disclosure to Defendant's detriment in rebuttal closing
argument. (See New Trial Mot. 7 (alteration added)).
Defendant argues Plaintiff's counsel used the redacted
record to imply “he had been precluded by the redaction
from bringing such evidence to the jury that would be helpful
to Plaintiff.” (Id. 8). Defendant emphasizes
the following statements as unfairly prejudicial:
[Plaintiff's counsel]: Well, we can't show any
document at all that shows the final cause because it's
the [sic] against the Rules of Evidence.
[Plaintiff's counsel]: You are going to get every medical
report back there, and you are going to see that there's
[sic] parts in it [sic] that are redacted.
[Plaintiff's counsel]: We can't get into what it says
one way or another, but as far as our ability to show you
anything about a determined cause, there is no way for us to
(New Trial Mot. 8-9 (alterations added; citations and
emphasis omitted)). Defendant insists these statements made
it clear to the jury Plaintiff sought to present that
evidence, but the Court's ruling -- at Defendant's
request -- prevented Plaintiff from doing so. (See
to the Plaintiff, the Record was perfectly admissible; it
simply had not yet been admitted. (See New Trial
Resp. 3). Plaintiff states her “pretrial
acquiescence” to Defendant's requested redactions
did not make an otherwise admissible exhibit inadmissible.
(See id.). Plaintiff describes as proper the use of
the un-redacted Providence Record given Defendant tried to
bolster its expert's opinion with Providence Hospital
records. (See id. 4). Plaintiff provides the
following exchange between Royal Caribbean and its expert by
way of example:
Q. Was there anything in the record from Bartlett or
Providence that would change your opinions in this particular
A. No, it didn't change my opinion, actually it confirmed
my opinion because I think you've probably seen that the
Bartlett physicians and then the Providence physicians all
said, we do not know what caused this PEA. And that's
(Id. (citation and emphasis omitted)). Plaintiff
states the portions redacted from the Providence Record did
not support the witness's opinion, and Defendant exposed
the witness to impeachment under Federal Rule of Evidence
705, which permits otherwise inadmissible evidence upon which
an expert has relied to be used to impeach the expert's
opinion. (See id.).
also notes the Court provided a curative instruction, and the
instruction is presumed to be effective. (See id.
8). The Court was willing to provide a second curative
instruction, but Defendant withdrew the request for one.
(See id.). Plaintiff argues the un-redacted
Providence Record is substantially similar ...