• Surveillance Footage Proves To Be Worth Over $100,000 in the Fifth Circuit
  • December 23, 2013
  • Law Firm: Jones Walker LLP - New Orleans Office
  • The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently significantly reduced an award of general damages based largely on surveillance footage produced by the defendant.

    In Delahoussaye v. Performance Energy Services, LLC, the plaintiff was injured while working on a fixed platform in the Gulf of Mexico when a handrail struck him in the head as a result of botched backloading of equipment from the platform onto an adjacent vessel. 734 F.3d 389 (5th Cir. 2013). The plaintiff claimed to have chronic back pain, degenerative disk disease, a back injury at L5-S1, an annular tear, and foraminal stenosis. The district court allocated fault between the defendants and awarded $200,000 in general damages to the plaintiff.

    On appeal, the Fifth Circuit, reduced the amount of general damages awarded by the district court in a bench trial from $200,000 to $86,450. The Fifth Circuit held that the plaintiff exaggerated his complaints of pain and that he was not a candidate for L5-S1 fusion despite the recommendation of his orthopedic surgeon. In making its determination, the Fifth Circuit highlighted the fact that several hours of surveillance footage showed the plaintiff picking up ice chests, squatting with a bag of dog food on his shoulder, jumping in and out of a truck bed, lifting and carrying equipment, bending, dancing, and running up and down steps. The court noted the district court's observation that the surveillance footage did not show the plaintiff wincing, limping, or making any outward expressions of pain or discomfort during these activities. The Fifth Circuit also noted that the district court determined that the plaintiff was capable of returning to work in a low-sedentary type of position and that his back injury had not significantly affected his relationship with his son.

    Based on the plaintiff's actual condition as shown by the surveillance footage, the court held that his case was similar to a previous case in which the plaintiff permanently injured his back when he fell from his bunk. In the analogous case, the court awarded $65,000 in general damages. Relying on this precedent, the Fifth Circuit held that Delahoussaye could not be awarded over 133% (in the Fifth Circuit, an award of damages may only be reduced if the award exceeds 133% of highest previous recovery for a factually similar case in the relevant jurisdiction) of $65,000, which is $86,450.

    The Fifth Circuit's reliance on surveillance information to reduce a general damages award by $113,550 illustrates the importance of thinking outside of the box when defending against potentially amplified claims for damages. Steps that may seem excessive during the trial preparation period can have high rates of return, which far exceed one's expectations.