The CNMI Supreme Court has affirmed a ruling that Mobil Oil Mariana Islands Inc. is liable to pay a security guard nearly a million dollars after he fell into a ditch on Mobil Oil’s premises in Lower Base, Saipan.
The high court ruled that the jurors in the case were given enough evidence in the form of expert testimony to calculate the damages awarded to Herman Indalecio, enabling them to reduce future damages to present value.
The high court’s decision was penned by Chief Justice Alexandro C. Castro and concurred by associate justices John A. Manglona and Perry B. Inos.
The justices said Dr. Grant E. Walker, an orthopedic surgeon, stated that his report made sense, that his findings were consistent with a life care planner’s role, and that there was no inconsistency between his treatment plan and that of Doris J. Shriver’s, Indalecio’s life care planning expert, vocational expert, and occupational therapy expert who testified on Indalecio’s life care plan and the accompanying costs.
The justices said Shriver’s testimony remained within the bounds of the trial court’s finding that her expertise did not extend so far as to give medical diagnoses.
The justices said Shriver relied on physician’s reports in assessing the probable future needs of a patient to comport with her role as a life care planner, and her reports were approved by a physician. The justices said Walker explicitly affirmed as much.
The justices said they find Shriver did not exceed the scope of her testimony and that Superior Court Presiding Judge Roberto C. Naraja did not abuse his discretion in admitting Shriver’s testimony.
In his lawsuit, Indalecio, through counsel Victorino DLG Torres, asked the court to hold Mobil Oil liable to pay him damages for medical care and expenses, for pain and suffering, emotional distress, mental anguish, and diminished quality of life. The Superior Court awarded Indalecio a total of $918,929.
According to the lawsuit, Indalecio fell into a ditch at Mobil Oil’s premises in Lower Base on Dec. 23, 2013. Torres said that Mobil knew or should have known the dangerous condition of the ditch, and should have realized that it creates an unreasonable risk of harm to others.
Mobil Oil counsel Thomas E. Clifford pointed out that Mobil’s terminal in Lower Base is a highly regulated by various federal and local agencies.
Clifford said the evidence will show that Indalecio got hurt because he did not take his duty as a security guard responsibly by not following the designated route patrol on the premises.
Clifford said Indalecio was not faking his injuries, but was exaggerating.
The trial began last June 28, 2016. Naraja presided over the trial.
On July 14, 2016, the jury reached a verdict finding Mobil Oil liable to pay $1.3 million in damages.
The nine jurors awarded Indalecio $681,000 in economic damages and $600,000 in non-economic damages, for a total of $1,281,000.
Naraja, however, reduced the non-economic damages to $300,000, for a total award of $981,000.
Naraja subsequently reduced damages by $62,071, for a total of $918,928.
The jurors found that Mobil Oil did permit Indalecio to use the area of the premises where he was injured.
The jurors also found that Mobil Oil was negligent and that its negligence was a factual cause of Indalecio’s harm. The jurors did not find Indalecio negligent.
Mobil appealed to the Supreme Court. It argued that there was insufficient evidence to compute the reduction of future medical costs to present cash value.
Mobil argued that Naraja abused his discretion in admitting a certified public accountant as an expert witness, and in permitting a life care planner’s testimony to exceed the scope of her expertise in enumerating medical costs in a life care plan.