257 F.3d 625 (6th Cir. 2001), 00-1046, Meyers v Wal-mart Stores, East, Inc.

Docket Nº:00-1046
Citation:257 F.3d 625
Party Name:William J. Meyers, Plaintiff-Appellee/Cross-Appellant, v. Wal-Mart Stores, East, Inc., d/b/a Wal-Mart, Defendant-Appellant/Cross-Appellee.
Case Date:July 20, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Page 625

257 F.3d 625 (6th Cir. 2001)

William J. Meyers, Plaintiff-Appellee/Cross-Appellant,


Wal-Mart Stores, East, Inc., d/b/a Wal-Mart, Defendant-Appellant/Cross-Appellee.

No. 00-1046

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

July 20, 2001

Argued: June 6, 2001

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Flint, No. 97-40517, Paul V. Gadola, District Judge.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Jeffrey T. Meyers, Linda M. Galante, MAZUR, MORGAN, MEYERS & KITTEL, Detroit, Michigan, John D. Nickola, Nickola & Nickola, Flint, MI, for Appellant.

Jeffrey S. Sutton, JONES, DAY, REAVIS & POGUE, Columbus, Ohio, Ronald E. Westen, Robert Patrick George, LUPO & KOCZKUR, Detroit, Michigan, Melanie P. Sarwal, WAL-MART STORES, INC., Bentonville, Arkansas, for Appellee.

Before: GUY, BOGGS, and GILMAN, Circuit Judges.


GILMAN, Circuit Judge.

William J. Meyers, a 65-year-old claimant, slipped and fell on loose cardboard in the empty-box area at a Sam's Club store. The fall fractured his hip, causing him to undergo hip-replacement surgery. Meyers's rehabilitation process greatly aggravated his preexisting arthritic condition.

After a nine-day jury trial, during which three of the original seven jurors were dismissed by the district court with the consent of both parties, this negligence action was submitted to the remaining four jurors. The jury returned with a verdict in favor of Meyers in the amount of $1,501,400, with a finding of 5% comparative negligence on his part. This reduced his damages to $1,426,330, which the district court further reduced by $300,000 in response to the defendant's motion for a remittitur, leaving a net verdict of $1,126,330.

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Wal-Mart, as the owner of the Sam's Club store, now appeals on various grounds, arguing that (1) the district court erred in permitting Meyers's "aggravation" claim to go to the jury, (2) there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict, (3) the four-person jury was unconstitutional, and (4) the district court should have remitted the verdict by more than $300,000. Meyers cross-appealed, challenging the $300,000 remittitur. For the reasons set forth below, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district court.


A. Factual background

On July 8, 1997, Meyers and his wife went shopping at the Sam's Club store in Southgate, Michigan. While his wife was waiting in the checkout line, Meyers walked over to the empty-box area to find a box in which to place the couple's purchases. Meyers was initially carrying a cup of frozen custard, but set the cup down just before entering the box area. He moved several boxes in order to locate one of suitable size. Once he found a box that he wanted, he turned around, grabbed his custard, and began to leave the box area, at which point he tripped on some loose cardboard and fell. Meyers claims that his injuries and subsequent damages all flow from this incident.

B. Trial background

Meyers filed suit in state court on December 30, 1997, alleging that his injuries were caused by Wal-Mart's negligence. Wal-Mart removed the action to federal court based upon diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. At trial, Wal-Mart stipulated that Meyers slipped or tripped on cardboard lying on the floor in the box area. Several Wal-Mart employees testified that, at the time of the accident, there were boxes left all over the box area because there was no other place to put them, that there was loose cardboard under the boxes, and that cleanup was done only on a "catch as catch can" basis. Two of the employees even admitted that the condition of the box area was dangerous.

The uncontradicted evidence established that Meyers fractured his hip as a result of the fall. Hip-replacement surgery was required in order to restore his ability to walk, and he suffered a 104-degree fever for four days after the operation. As a result of the high temperature, his doctor discontinued all pain medication, causing Meyers to be "in agony" during this time. Meyers continued to feel pain after he began outpatient physical therapy. This therapy involved standing and walking exercises, including the use of crutches and walkers. Meyers testified that the exercises and supportive devices caused him to feel pain in his hands, shoulders, hips, wrists, elbows, and other joints. The pain made it hard for him to sleep at night.

Although some of these symptoms eventually abated, others still remain. Meyers testified that the hip-replacement surgery permanently affected his gait and his everyday living activities. He has been unable, for example, to stand for more than 10 to 15 minutes at a time or to walk more than a mile-and-a-half without feeling pain in his hip, nor can he ride his bicycle as far as he was once able to do.

Prior to the accident, Meyers had suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for many years, but had not needed steroid treatment since 1993. His treating physician, Dr. Raymond Weitzman, testified that Meyers

went for a long period without [steroids] before he fell and fractured his hip . . . . He was not really going through flare ups for the few years prior to the fracture

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of his hip . . . . I tapered the Prednisone so that between 1993 and September of 1997 he was off all steroids . . .. His disease, on the gold [a type of medical treatment for rheumatoid arthritis involving gold salts], actually did well, and he seemed to stabilize.

Dr. Weitzman also confirmed that Meyers's arthritis flared up after his fall, noting that Meyers's "disease process seemed to change after the fracture; he became flared up in all of his joints, not just talking about the hip." He also pointed out that these symptoms appeared to be temporally related to Meyers's hip injury. "In other words, it seemed pretty clear cut that the arthritis flared following the fracture." Moreover, Dr. Weitzman testified that the gold-salts treatment he had been using for Meyers's arthritic condition lost its effectiveness after the accident, even after he increased the dosage and frequency of the shots. This required a return to injecting Meyers with steroids such as Prednisone and Cortisone.

After a nine-day trial, the jury returned with a unanimous verdict in favor of Meyers in the amount of $1,501,400, with a finding of 5% comparative negligence on his part. Because of the comparative negligence allocation, Meyers's damages were reduced to $1,426,330. The final jury was composed of only four members, because three of the original seven jurors had been excused by the district court with the written consent of both parties.

Wal-Mart filed several post-trial motions. The district court rejected Wal-Mart's motion for judgment as a matter of law regarding Meyers's claim for aggravation of his preexisting arthritic condition, as well as its motion for a new trial based on challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence in support of the award and the constitutionality of the four-person jury. See Meyers v. Wal-Mart Stores, East, Inc., 77 F.Supp.2d 826, 830-32, 835-37 (E.D. Mich. 1999). However, the court granted Wal-Mart's motion to remit the verdict based upon a range of allegedly comparable cases. See id. at 833-35. Accordingly, the district court remitted the verdict by $300,000 to reach an amount approximating that awarded in Slezak v. Marine Midland Bank, JVR No. 146161, 1992 WL 697461, at *1 (N.Y. App. Div. 1992) (awarding $1,196,000 to a plaintiff who...

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