Harris v. Jiangsu ASG Earth Environmental Protection Science and Technology Co., Ltd. et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER: that Plaintiff Harris's motion for default judgment [R. 75] is GRANTED. Harris shall be awarded $127,066.57 in past medical expenses; $250,000.00 in future medical expenses; $513,000.00 for loss of future wages; and $2,000,000.00 for pain and suffering. Judgment against Jiangsu ASG in the amount of $2,890,066.57 shall be entered contemporaneously herewith. Signed by Judge Gregory F. VanTatenhove on 7/13/2017.(AKR)cc: COR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF KENTUCKY
KENNETH MATTHEW HARRIS,
JIANGSU ASG EARTH ENVIRONMENT
PROTECTION SCIENCE AND
TECHNOLOGY CO., LTD., et al.,
Civil No. 13-44-GFVT
*** *** *** ***
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.
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 seventyeight 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).
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
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.
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 future medical needs, and the Court will also award that amount
of money to Harris. See Wood v. Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories, 82 S.W.3d 849, 856 (Ky. 2002)
(noting Kentucky laws allows future medical damages as a remedy in tort actions).
As for Harris’s earning potential, the record indicates that Harris previously had an
earning potential of at least $25,000.00 per year. At the time of the accident, he was earning
$492.38 per week as a general laborer, which would amount to $25,603.76 per annum. [See R.
78-1 at 2.] The fifty-four percent impairment rating noted in the workers’ compensation
judgment suggests Harris is no longer able to achieve his full earning potential but is, instead,
limited to fifty-four percent of that. Accordingly, Harris asks the Court to reasonably conclude
his future earning potential is between “$553,500.00 (41 years x $25,000 x .54) and
$1,025,000.00 (41 years x $25,000 x 1) (100% impairment)).” [R. 80 at 5.] These calculations
take into account Harris’s remaining years of life expectancy, his annual earning potential at the
time of the accident, and his impairment rating.
The record contains no evidence to suggest Harris is one hundred percent impaired
beyond his unsupported assertion that “[d]ue to [his] injury, [he] can no longer work.” [R. 78-1
at 2.] Although Harris may no longer be able to keep his job at the recycling center, the record
before the Court does not lead the Court to reasonably conclude Harris faces no opportunities for
meaningful employment, notwithstanding the loss of his hand. The Court therefore finds the
future earning potential calculation which takes into account Harris’s fifty-four percent
impairment rating to be more appropriate than the calculation suggesting a one hundred percent
However, the Court does not find the appropriate calculation to equal $553,500.00 as
Harris’s memorandum suggests. In the memorandum, counsel’s calculation accounted for fortyone years of future life, based off of a seventy-eight year life expectancy.1 As noted above, the
Social Security Administration’s most recent life expectancy calculator indicates Mr. Harris’s
life expectancy is eighty-two years total, with fifty-two and a half years left of life and a normal
retirement age of sixty-seven. See Life Expectancy Calculator, Social Security Online,
https://www.ssa.gov/cgi-bin/longevity.cgi (last accessed June 29, 2017). Assuming Harris retires
normally at age sixty-seven, his remaining years of future working life amount to thirty-eight.
Id. The appropriate calculation in light of these numbers, then, is (38 years x $25,000 x .54),
which equals $513,000.00. The Court awards damages in this amount to Mr. Harris for his loss
of future wages. See Schneider, 15 S.W.3d at 374 (allowing damages to be awarded “for any
permanent reduction of the power to earn money”).
Harris also requests $2,000,000.00 in pain and suffering damages. Harris’s affidavit
reads “I feel my past, present, and future pain and suffering warrants at least $2,000,000.00 in
compensatory damages.” [R. 78-1 at 2.] Relatedly, Harris’s memorandum states:
Based upon undersigned counsel’s experience, Plaintiff’s requested pain and
The Court does not know why counsel chose to use forty-one years of remaining life for purposes of
these calculations. Even if Harris’s life expectancy was only seventy-eight years, as counsel suggested,
he would still enjoy forty-nine years of remaining life. Perhaps counsel assumed Mr. Harris would retire
at age seventy? Rather than guess, the Court uses the life expectancy estimate and normal retirement age
identified by the Social Security Administration’s online calculator.
suffering award of $2,000,000.00, which is approximately 5 times Plaintiff’s past,
present, and future medical expenses, is a reasonable request within Central
Kentucky given that Plaintiff lost his dominant hand, the traumatic nature of
amputation’s [sic] in general and the amputation in this case, the fact that Plaintiff
lost his hand while working, and Plaintiff’s age and well-being at the time of the
[R. 80 at 5.] No additional information is provided.
There is some support for the notion that a five to one ratio for awards of pain and
suffering in comparison to medical bills is reasonable under Kentucky law. See, e.g., Fisher v.
May, No. 3:11-cv-00592, 2012 WL 1964564 (W.D. Ky. May 31, 2012) (noting that Kentucky
courts have upheld pain and suffering verdicts for ratios even higher than five to one and
collecting cases). But Harris asks the Court to conclude such a five to one ratio is appropriate in
this case on a very limited record. While the record contains few details as to the nature,
severity, and duration of Harris’s pain, the Court can reasonably infer Harris experienced
significant physical pain and emotional trauma as a result of his hand injury and subsequent
amputation. After evaluating the damages awarded in comparable Kentucky cases, the Court
determines an amount of $2,000,000.00 is an appropriate pain and suffering award.
Because all of Harris’s claims are essentially products liability claims, they are
potentially subject to Kentucky’s procedure for allocution of fault in tort actions. See Morales v.
Am. Honda Motor Co., Inc., 151 F.3d 500, 518-19 (6th Cir. 1998). The relevant statute provides:
In all tort actions, including products liability actions, involving fault of more than
one (1) party to the action, including third-party defendants and persons who have
been released under subsection (4) of this section, the court, unless otherwise
agreed by all parties, . . . shall make findings indicating:
(a) the amount of damages each claimant would be entitled to recover if
contributory fault is disregarded; and
(b) the percentage of the total fault of all the parties to each claim that is
allocated to each claimant, defendant, third-party defendant, and person
who has been released from liability under subsection (4) of this section.
KRS § 411.182(1). The statute goes on to direct the Court to “consider both the nature of the
conduct of each party at fault and the extent of the causal relation between the conduct and the
damages claimed.” KRS § 411.182(2). The Court should “determine and state in the judgment
each party’s equitable share of the obligation to each claimant in accordance with the respective
percentages of fault.” KRS § 411.182(3).
Also, the statute explains the effect of a settlement agreement or other release on the
A release, covenant not to sue, or similar agreement entered into by a claimant
and a person liable, shall discharge that person from all liability for contribution,
but it shall not be considered to discharge any other persons liable upon the same
claim unless it so provides. However, the claim of the releasing person against
other persons shall be reduced by the amount of the released persons’ equitable
share of the obligation, determined in accordance with the provisions of this
KRS § 411.182(4). However, Kentucky law has also made clear that “[f]ault may not be
properly allocated to a party, a dismissed party or settling nonparty unless the court or the jury
first finds that the party was at fault; otherwise, the party has no fault to allocate.” Owens
Corning Fiberglas Corp. v. Parrish, 58 S.W.3d 467, 471 n. 5 (Ky. 2001) (emphasis added); see
also Morgan v. Scott, 291 S.W.3d 622, 634 (Ky. 2009) (“[F]ault may be apportioned only among
those against whom the evidence of liability was sufficient to allow submission of the issue of
fault to the jury.”); Insight Ky. Partners II, L.P. v. Preferred Automotive Servs., Inc., 514 S.W.3d
537, 552-53 (Ky. 2016) (same).
In this case, Mr. Harris has already resolved his claims against Defendants JAS
Forwarding and China Container Line. [R. 60; R. 68.] But the Court is privy to no information
about the actual fault of those two parties, and the record contains no evidence of their liability.
Under Kentucky law, “[t]he mere fact that a party has been sued or has settled does not permit
the factfinder to allocate part of the total fault to that party.” Owens Corning Fiberglas, 58
S.W.3d at 471 n. 5. The only evidence of fault before the Court is the fault of Jiangsu ASG,
having essentially admitted the plaintiff’s allegations by virtue of its failure to appear and
respond. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 36; Fed. R. Civ. P. 55. Accordingly, the Court considers Jiangsu
ASG the only party at fault in this case and will not allocate the awarded damages. See KRS §
411.182(1) (calling for allocation of fault in products liability actions where multiple parties are
involved); Insight, 514 S.W.3d at 552-53.
Therefore, for the reasons stated above and consistent with Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 55(b), the Court ORDERS that Plaintiff Harris’s motion for default judgment [R. 75]
is GRANTED. Harris shall be awarded $127,066.57 in past medical expenses; $250,000.00 in
future medical expenses; $513,000.00 for loss of future wages; and $2,000,000.00 for pain and
suffering. Judgment against Jiangsu ASG in the amount of $2,890,066.57 shall be entered
This the 13th day of July, 2017.
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