Deleted Email Leads Court to Vacate $21 Million Verdict
In Hausman v. Holland America Line-U.S.A., et. al., Case No. 13-0937 (W.D. Wash., Jan. 5, 2016), Plaintiff sued Defendants for injuries sustained when a sliding door on a cruise ship closed improperly on his head. He was ultimately awarded over $21 million by a jury. In a bizarre twist, a representative of Plaintiff approached Defendants and informed them that Plaintiff had engaged in significant discovery sabotage before trial. The witness advised that Plaintiff had tampered with witnesses, withheld and deleted email, fabricated and exaggerated the extent of his injuries and gave false testimony at trial. Based upon this information, Defendants filed a Motion to Vacate the judgment, including a declaration from the witness that attached deleted emails she allegedly recovered. The court set an evidentiary hearing to focus solely on the withheld and deleted email threads.
The witness testified that Plaintiff panicked when asked for emails with certain search terms, so he searched for those terms himself and deleted relevant emails. Plaintiff also told her to delete correspondence between them from her computer and phone, which she did. He told the witness that he was thinking about hiring a professional to scrub his computer and that he had used a magnet to destroy his home computer’s hard drive. Finally, he failed to disclose the existence of another personal email account. One of the emails produced by the witness showed that Plaintiff had engaged in physical activity that contradicted his alleged injuries. In response, Plaintiff claimed that he had only performed a routine clearing out of his inbox.
The judge found the witness credible, but not Plaintiff, who she found to be “evasive and untrustworthy,” capitalizing on his alleged brain injury when convenient during his testimony. She also found that Plaintiff could not establish that the withheld information was inconsequential. She found a miscarriage of justice and vacated the judgment, ordering a new trial.