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Va. Supreme Court orders new trial for seaman

A seaman claiming injuries stemming from a fateful shore leave in Korea may have to retry his case against a Norfolk shipping company. The decision by the Supreme Court of Virginia ends the seaman’s hope to reinstate a $25-million jury verdict.

The seaman claimed his employer, the shipping company, failed to provide sufficient medical help after he reported he was gang raped and forced to drink liquor by Korean police.

A Portsmouth jury returned the $25 million verdict for the employee in 2010, but the trial judge cut the award to $2 million, finding the jury’s figure “appallingly excessive.” Both sides appealed.

Friday, the Supreme Court concluded the judge was wrong to simply slash the verdict after deciding the jury had been allowed to consider an invalid claim. The jury had heard evidence to support punitive damages even though the underlying claim was unsupported by the facts, the high court ruled.

The seaman will face a stiffer challenge on retrial. The Supreme Court approved a jury instruction saying the ship owner owed no duty to the seaman while he was ashore.

“We are very pleased with the decision,” said defense lawyer Edward J. Powers of Norfolk. A question about the prospects for settlement is “best directed to plaintiff,” he said.

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