ST. LOUIS — A $4.5 million jury award handed to a man who was severely injured in February 2014 after a truck ran a stop sign has been affirmed by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
A panel of judges on June 26 affirmed that the total was not “monstrous, shocking, or grossly excessive," given the man will be physically impaired for the rest of his life.
Following a five-day damages trial at the Western District of Missouri in Jefferson City, the jury awarded Aaron Eckerberg an amount that included past and future economic and noneconomic, or pain and suffering, damages.
Eckerberg, a Marine Corps officer, had suffered a compression fracture in his spine and a traumatic brain injury in the accident involving an Inter-State Studio & Publishing driver, according to court documents.
The company, which had admitted liability, appealed the jury's verdict, arguing that the lower court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction because both parties were citizens of Missouri, and in the alternative, that the district court abused its discretion by not remitting, or reducing, the damages award.
According to the ruling, throughout his military career that involved transfers to various states and deployments overseas, Eckerberg had maintained residency in Florida with his bank account, voter registration, tax-filing status and driver’s license.
However, when he was stationed at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC) in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in 2013, he rented a home in nearby Kearney, preferring the public school system there over what was available in Kansas, the ruling states. He also transferred title of two vehicles to Missouri and obtained Missouri hunting and fishing licenses, and a permit for carrying a firearm in Missouri.
Eckerberg sued in federal court, alleging diversity jurisdiction as a citizen of Florida against a Missouri corporation with its principal place of business in Missouri.
"On this record, we conclude that the district court’s finding of fact that Eckerberg did not intend to make Missouri his domicile was not clearly erroneous," the ruling states. "Eckerberg was a domiciliary of Florida when he filed his complaint. Because Inter-State was a domiciliary of Missouri, the parties were completely diverse. The district court therefore had subject-matter jurisdiction."
The appeals panel further disagreed with the defense's argument that the $4.5 million award was “grossly excessive” in light of Eckerberg's $59,000 in medical bills.
"Even if Eckerberg remained employed by the Marines until retirement, the injuries sustained in the accident have substantially impaired his potential for career advancement," the ruling states. "The jury had sufficient basis to find substantial economic losses."