(CN) - An American sailor who claims that South Korean police officers beat and raped him on shore leave cannot keep a $2 million judgment against his employer, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled.
Christopher Hale had been working as a steward-baker on board the Maersk Rhode Island in July 2008, when the Norfolk, Va.-based tanker ship made a port call in the South Korean city of Yosu.
Things allegedly soured while Hale was getting a meal and drinks with his shipmates on an authorized shore leave.
Though Hale had consumed alcohol, he says that he felt disoriented and incapacitated because someone must have slipped him drugs without his knowledge or consent.
After taking refuge behind a Dumpster, and then under a parked car, Hale allegedly woke up in a police car being punched and smothered. Later, officers allegedly kicked him, hit him in the face more than 15 times, and raped him.
Hale sued Maersk Line for negligence, unseaworthiness of the ship based on the crew's incompetence and other claims.
After a jury in Portsmouth awarded Hale $25 million, Maersk protested that Hale hadn't provided medical evidence of his attack.
Finding the verdict amount to be "shocking" and "appallingly" excessive, the circuit court reduced the award to $2 million.
But the Virginia Supreme Court went even further, ordering a new trial after finding that the evidence did not support Hale's claim for damages.
"Thus, the jury was erroneously instructed on the maintenance and cure claim and imposed liability for unreasonably failing to pay maintenance and cure, as evidenced by its award of punitive damages," Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn wrote for the unanimous court.
"When a court erroneously allows a party to try a punitive damages claim to a jury, a new trial on all remaining contested issues is the appropriate remedy," he added.
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