Meals v. Port Authority Trans Hudson Corp., 070815 FED3, 14-3281

Docket Nº:14-3281
Opinion Judge:VANASKIE, Circuit Judge.
Judge Panel:Before: AMBRO, VANASKIE, and SHWARTZ, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:July 08, 2015
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit




No. 14-3281

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

July 8, 2015


Submitted Under Third Circuit L.A.R. 34.1(a) April 16, 2015

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (D.C. No. 2:12-cv-02628) District Judge: Honorable Jose L. Linares

Before: AMBRO, VANASKIE, and SHWARTZ, Circuit Judges.


VANASKIE, Circuit Judge.

After James Meals was injured on the job, he prevailed in a negligence action against his employer, the Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corporation ("PATH"). The District Court denied PATH's subsequent motion for a new trial, and PATH challenges this ruling on appeal. For the reasons that follow, we will affirm.


On February 10, 2011, Meals was working for PATH as a trackman in a New Jersey railway tunnel. While attempting to dislodge a pin spike from the tracks with a claw bar, Meals was injured when an unidentified object struck him in the right eye. As a result of the incident, he missed work and underwent multiple medical procedures, including the suturing of his right iris.

The following year, Meals brought suit against PATH in the District of New Jersey under the Federal Employer's Liability Act ("FELA"), 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq., alleging that PATH was negligent in failing to implement procedures necessary to minimize the risk of injury during the pin spike pulling process. PATH denied culpability and maintained that Meals's own negligence caused his injury in whole or in part. Additionally, PATH argued that Meals's recovery should be limited because he failed to mitigate his damages (by disobeying doctor's orders and reinjuring his eye while practicing mixed martial arts).

The case went to trial in February 2014. Following the close of evidence, the District Court instructed the jury on the applicable legal principles-including comparative negligence and the duty to mitigate damages-and provided a special verdict form agreed to by the parties. Responding to the verdict form's interrogatories, the jury concluded that PATH was negligent, that this negligence caused Meals's injuries, and that PATH had failed to prove that Meals was negligent. The jury also found that $3.75 million would fairly and reasonably compensate Meals.

PATH responded with a motion for a new trial, or in the alternative, remittitur of the jury award. Among other things, PATH argued that the District Court erred by: (1) answering a jury question about the verdict form without reiterating its prior instruction regarding the duty to mitigate damages; (2) permitting Meals's treating physician to offer an opinion on the likelihood he would develop glaucoma; and (3) forbidding questioning about the payments Meals received from PATH while on medical leave. PATH also contends that the jury's verdict should be set aside based upon purportedly improper remarks made by Meals's counsel during his closing argument. The District Court denied PATH's motion and entered judgment for Meals. PATH timely appealed.


The District Court had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. We have appellate jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We review the denial of a motion for a new trial for abuse of discretion. United States v. Georgiou, 777 F.3d 125, 143 (3d Cir. 2015). A district court abuses its discretion when its "'decision rests upon a clearly erroneous finding of fact, an errant conclusion of law[, ] or an improper application of law to fact.'" Id. (citation omitted).



PATH contends that the District Court abused its discretion by answering a jury question concerning Meals's alleged negligence without reiterating its prior instruction regarding Meals's duty to mitigate his damages. We will set aside a judgment for failure to provide a supplemental jury instruction only if the decision was "'arbitrary, fanciful or...

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