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Harris v. Jiangsu ASG Earth Environment Protection Science and Technology Co., Ltd.

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Frankfort

July 13, 2017

KENNETH MATTHEW HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
JIANGSU ASG EARTH ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY CO., LTD., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Gregory F. Tatenhove United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Kenneth Harris seeks damages in excess of three million dollars against Defendant Jiangsu ASG, the Chinese entity responsible for manufacturing a centrifuge which permanently injured Harris's right hand. Harris filed for default judgment against Jiangsu ASG, and the Court ordered Harris to provide affidavits and other supporting documentation to assist its determination of the appropriate damages to award. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(b)(2). Having considered the record and for the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS Harris's motion for default judgment and awards damages to Harris in the amount of $2, 890, 066.57.

         I

         In 2012, Plaintiff Kenneth Harris sustained an unfortunate work-related injury which ultimately resulted in the amputation of his right hand. Harris was operating a plastic recycling system which included a centrifuge, and Harris's hand became caught in the centrifuge. His hand sustained permanent damage and later had to be amputated. Harris subsequently sued the designer and manufacturer of the centrifuge, Jiangsu ASG Earth Environment Protection Science and Technology Co., Ltd., as well as two companies responsible for importing and/or transporting the centrifuge, JAS Forwarding (USA), Inc., and China Container Line, Ltd. Over the course of the last several years, Harris has resolved his claims against JAS and China Container Line. [See R. 60; R. 68.] Harris's claims against Jiangsu ASG remain outstanding.

         Jiangsu ASG, a Chinese entity, failed to respond to Harris's complaint or otherwise make an appearance in this action. After the Court directed Harris to provide information ensuring Jiangsu ASG had been properly served pursuant to the Hague Convention, default was entered against Jiangsu ASG and Harris moved for default judgment. Harris also requested a hearing consistent with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2)(B), which allows the Court to conduct hearings or make referrals “when, to enter or effectuate judgment, it needs to . . . determine the amount of damages” at issue. The Court held a telephonic status conference with counsel to discuss the possibility of proceeding by way of affidavit, as the only witness at an evidentiary hearing would be Mr. Harris and the only exhibits his medical records. [See R. 74; R. 77.] Counsel agreed, and Mr. Harris then filed in the record various documents including a memorandum in support of his motion for default judgment, which requests the following damages: (1) past and present medical expenses of $127, 066.57; (2) future medical expenses of $250, 000.00; (3) loss of future wages in an amount between $553, 500.00 and $1, 025, 000.00; and (4) past, present, and future pain and suffering in the amount of $2, 000, 000.00. [See R. 80 at 3.]

         In support of the requested damage amounts, Harris presented the judgment from his workers' compensation action; an affidavit memorializing Harris's testimony about his injury; and two photographs. [R. 78-1; R. 80-1; R. 80-2.] Collectively, these supporting documents provide the following factual information for the Court's consideration. The documents indicate that Harris's medical expenses paid through November 7, 2013, amounted to $127, 066.57. [R. 80-1 at 2.] Harris's future medical expenses are anticipated to be at least $250, 000.00. [R. 78-1 at 2; see also R. 80-1 at 3.] Harris was earning $492.38 per week as a general laborer at the time of the injury. [R. 78-1 at 2.] A physician has determined Harris has a fifty-four percent “impairment rating” in light of his injury, which plaintiff's counsel has indicated affects Harris's future earning capacity. [R. 80-1 at 2; R. 80 at 5.] Harris was twenty-four at the time of his injury and twenty-nine as of the time he filed his memorandum in support of default judgment. [R. 78-1 at 2.] Two photos of Harris demonstrate that he has, indeed, suffered the total amputation of his right hand. [R. 80-2.] And Harris has testified in his affidavit that he believes his past, present, and future pain and suffering “warrants at least $2, 000, 000.00 in compensatory damages.” [R. 78-1 at 2.]

         Finally, Harris's affidavit and memorandum both indicate his life expectancy is seventy-eight years, according to the Social Security Administration. [Id.; R. 80 at 2.] However, the Court's independent research of Harris's life expectancy, using the date of birth supplied on the worker's compensation judgment, resulted in a total life expectancy of eighty-two years. See Life Expectancy Calculator, Social Security Online, https://www.ssa.gov/cgi-bin/longevity.cgi (last accessed June 29, 2017).

         II

         The Court is tasked with calculating the amount of damages to award Mr. Harris in this default judgment action, which arises under Kentucky law and is before the Court on diversity jurisdiction. The Sixth Circuit has summarized the relevant law as follows:

In Kentucky, one injured by another's negligence is entitled to recover full compensation for all damages proximately resulting from that negligence. The amount of damages for personal injuries in a particular case must be determined by the character and extent of the injuries and the consequences thereof. Properly included when computing the amount are damages to property, pain and suffering, and medical expenses incurred or reasonably certain thereafter to be incurred as the direct and proximate result of injuries received. Damages further include loss of earnings and compensation for future impairment of earning power.

Duty v. U.S. Dep't of Interior, 735 F.2d 1012, 1014 (6th Cir. 1984) (internal citations omitted). The permanency of an injury is also a key consideration for the Court in determining an appropriate award of damages. Id.; Tichenor v. Roll, 253 S.W.2d 13, 14 (Ky. 1952).

         Questions concerning the amount of damages to award are questions of fact. Duty, 735 F.2d at 1014-15; see also Eves v. Am. Clearinghouse, Inc., 316 F. App'x 393, 396 (6th Cir. 2008). Before awarding damages, the Court should make findings of fact and subsequent conclusions of law as to each amount of damages awarded pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52. Duty, 735 F.2d at 1014-15. Put another way, the Court should “enumerate the amount of its awards attributable to damage to property, past and future pain and suffering, medical expenses incurred or reasonably certain thereafter to be incurred as the direct and proximate result of injuries received in the accident, and loss of earnings, including future impairment of earning power.” Id. at 1015.

         A

         Harris has not requested any damages for loss of property, but he has requested $127, 066.57 in past medical expenses. [R. 80 at 4.] Based on the information contained in the workers' compensation judgment [R. 80-1], the Court finds that amount does accurately reflect Harris's past medical bills, and the Court awards that amount to Harris. See Ky. Cent. Ins. Co. v. Schneider, 15 S.W.3d 373, 374 (Ky. 2000) (authorizing damages for “the expense of cure” in comparable tort actions). As for future medical expenses, Harris has testified via his affidavit that he expects to incur at least $250, 000.00 in future medical expenses [R. 78-1 at 2], and the workers' compensation judgment also references $250, 000.00 in future medical expenses. [See R. 80-1 at 3.] Based on the present record, the Court finds that $250, 000.00 is, indeed, an adequate estimation of Harris's ...


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