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Worker's $3.75 million eye-injury award upheld

Posted On: Jul. 10, 2015 12:00 AM CST

The employer of a New Jersey railway worker who sustained eye injuries when he was struck by an object on the job must pay a $3.75 million jury award in a negligence suit, a federal appeals court has ruled.

James Meals was working for Port Authority Trans-Hudson Corp. as a trackman in a New Jersey railway tunnel when an unidentified object struck him in the right eye in February 2011, according to court records.

His injury caused him to miss work and “undergo multiple medical procedures, including the suturing of his right iris,” records show.

A year later, Mr. Meals filed a negligence suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey against Port Authority under the Federal Employers Liability Act, according to records. He alleged that his employer failed “to implement procedures necessary to minimize the risk of injury during the pin spike pulling process.”

According to records, it's unclear if Mr. Meals was wearing eye protection at the time of his injury.

Port Authority argued that Mr. Meals' own negligence led to his injury, and that his recovery should be limited since he reinjured his eye practicing mixed martial arts, according to records.

At trial in February 2014, a District Court jury decided that Port Authority was negligent and should compensate Mr. Meals $3.75 million, records show.

In asking for a new trial, Port Authority argued that the District Court erred by forbidding questions about payments Mr. Meals received while on medical leave, among other things, according to records.

The motion was denied, leading the employer to appeal to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

A unanimous three-judge panel on Wednesday affirmed the District Court's ruling.

“The introduction of evidence regarding payments made to an injured plaintiff,” such as workers compensation, is generally prohibited “due to the potentially prejudicial effect of such evidence,” the ruling states. “We discern no abuse of discretion by the district court.”