Law360 (October 8, 2020, 10:35 PM EDT) -- A Washington federal jury has awarded $1.35 million to an elderly Holland America cruise passenger who suffered a brain injury in a fall, in what the passenger's lawyers say may have been the first federal Zoom civil jury trial.
The jury, appearing remotely for the trial in the Western District of Washington due to the coronavirus pandemic, on Wednesday found passenger Margaret Dallo sustained $1.69 million in damages after being hit by an opening door while walking down a hallway on a Holland America Line NV LLC ship. But the jury said Dallo was 20% responsible for the injuries, reducing the award to $1.35 million.
Though state courts around the country have conducted a number of Zoom jury trials, Dallo's may have been the first of its kind in federal court, her lawyer Ken Friedman said in a statement. He also said that, in preparing for the groundbreaking trial, U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly and his court staff "thought of everything."
"The jury was also terrific. They were quickly able to learn the special Zoom program used by the court and to focus on the evidence," Friedman said.
According to court records, on Nov. 26, 2018, 84-year-old Dallo was walking through a passenger hallway during a multiweek cruise from San Diego to Hawaii when a door opened outward into the hallway from a crew area. The door knocked Dallo to the floor, and she suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Dallo had a brain bleed, or subdural hematoma, and had to have surgery to address it, her lawyers said in the statement. "Following a craniotomy to evacuate blood from within her skull, her friends and family noticed a sudden and dramatic decrease in her mental functioning and emotional changes that have persisted," they said.
Friedman said the remote trial was not without its hiccups. Some jurors lost connections at times; jurors weren't able to meet and chat with their fellow jurors before the end of the trial when they started deliberating. But he said overall it was an "overwhelming success."
Judge Zilly had entered an order before trial laying out the nuts and bolts for the parties.
The trial would take place on ZoomGov, supplemented by the Box.com file platform for exhibits, the judge said. The clerk created and managed folders for proposed exhibits and admitted exhibits.
Counsel were required to have a backup means of communication available in case connections dropped, like email or a phone. Anyone who was not asking questions was ordered to mute themselves. All participants were required to set their screen names to their real first and last names.
In case of sidebars, jurors would be temporarily moved to a separate Zoom "room."
And Wednesday's verdict form was filled out electronically and signed not only by the jury foreperson but by Judge Zilly as well "on behalf of the jury."
The trial lasted roughly five days, and jurors deliberated for over a day, court records show.
The cruise line said in pretrial filings that Dallo's injuries "were and are the result of an open, obvious, and apparent 'danger' that was known to and recognized by her." It also said she had preexisting medical conditions.
A Holland America spokesman said Friday, "Holland America Line respects the decision by the court and jury in this case."
Dallo is represented by Ken Friedman and David Roosa of Friedman Rubin PLLC.
Holland America is represented by Lisa Conner and Melody Chang of Flynn Delich & Wise LLP.
The case is Dallo v. Holland America, case number 2:19-cv-00865, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.
--Editing by Bruce Goldman.
Update: A comment from Holland America has been added.
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