GOLDEN ISLES CRUISE LINES, INC.
MILLER, P. J., RICKMAN and REESE, JJ.
MILLER, PRESIDING JUDGE.
County jury awarded Robert Bruce Lowie $2, 236, 850.28, in
connection with his fall while aboard a gambling ship
operated by Golden Isles Cruise Lines, Inc. ("Golden
Isles"). Golden Isles appeals, contending that (1) the
trial court erred in denying its motion for summary judgment
because the one-year contractual limitations period governing
Lowie's claims expired before he filed his lawsuit; (2)
the jury's verdict was unsupported by the evidence and
contrary to law; (3) a new trial is warranted because the
trial court required Golden Isles to exhaust each of its
peremptory strikes of potential jurors; and (4) the trial
court erred by allowing Lowie's trial counsel to make
improper closing remarks. Having carefully reviewed the
record, we determine that the jury's verdict was not
against the weight of the evidence and that the trial court
committed no reversible error. We therefore affirm.
appeal from the grant or denial of a motion for summary
judgment, we review the evidence de novo, and all reasonable
conclusions and inferences drawn from the evidence are
construed in the light most favorable to the nonmovant."
(Citation omitted.) Coregis Ins. Co. v. Nelson, 282
Ga.App. 488, 490 (2) (639 S.E.2d 365) (2006).
In reviewing a verdict after the denial of a motion for new
trial, we follow well-established principles. Where a jury
returns a verdict and it has the approval of the trial judge,
the same must be affirmed on appeal if there is any evidence
to support it as the jurors are the sole and exclusive judges
of the weight and credit given the evidence. The appellate
court must construe the evidence with every inference and
presumption in favor of upholding the verdict, and after
judgment, the evidence must be construed to uphold the
verdict even where the evidence is in conflict. As long as
there is some evidence to support the verdict, the denial of
the motion for new trial will not be disturbed.
and punctuation omitted.) Crump v. McDonald, 239
Ga.App. 647, 650 (3) (520 S.E.2d 283) (1999).
Isles operates a boat in Georgia, known as the Emerald
Princess 2 (the "boat"). Golden Isles offers
various gaming options on the boat, including slot machines,
blackjack tables, and poker tables. During the weeks
preceding Lowie's fall, a piece of equipment on the boat
- the bow thruster - had not been working properly. When the
crew members are entering the engine room containing the bow
thruster, they must completely unscrew a hatch cover from the
floor and set it aside; the hatch cover does not remain
connected by any hinges. The floor hatch is square-shaped and
measures 22 inches by 22 inches.
December 16, 2014, the supervisor of the boat's
engineering department and two crew members were attempting
to "calibrate or fine tune the bow thruster" before
sailing later that evening. Before the boat sailed, one of
the captains did his "walk-around" to inspect the
vessel. He testified that during these inspections, he is
"looking for everything" and that this would
potentially include an open floor hatch. While inspecting the
main deck, the captain saw that the hatch cover had been
removed and that the hatch to the engine room was open.
Observing the hazard, he "told the engineering guys that
were working there to put some chairs around it," and he
also told them to have someone "stay there so that no
one would fall through the hole."
practice of having a crew member stand watch at a hazardous
site is known as a "man watch." The president of
Golden Isles, Louis N. Dyer, Jr., testified that in the
maritime business, a "man watch" is used when any
kind of maintenance, welding, or pipefitting is underway. He
added that it is a safety procedure to ensure that "an
accident like this couldn't happen." The engineering
department supervisor testified, "we try to keep two
people in the hole and one out."
the crew members exited the engine room and was
"standing man watch" around the hatch. The crew
placed a chair and a stool on one side of the hatch and
placed another chair and stool on the other side. These
chairs and stools, however, were merely seating that would
have ordinarily been used by patrons gambling. There were no
safety cones around the area, nor was there any yellow tape.
boarded the boat around six o'clock in the evening. On
his way to the cashier's cage located at the front of the
boat, Lowie fell approximately ten feet down, into the hatch.
The crew member who was standing watch had left his post.
When asked whether that specific crew member was doing what
he had been asked to do, Dyer responded, "[n]ot at that
moment. He - he did and then he didn't." Similarly,
when asked whether that crew member had done his job to warn
passengers that the hatch cover had been removed, Dyer
responded, "[a]t that moment, he did not." Dyer
also testified that the mere presence of the chairs and
stools was "not as good' as if there had been
someone standing watch.
suffered a head injury and compression fractures of multiple
vertebrae in his spine. He underwent various procedures and
took an array of medications for pain. Lowie had a permanent
spinal cord stimulator implanted, but it failed to provide
sufficient pain relief to off-set the side effects, and it
was later removed. In October 2016, a neurological surgeon
diagnosed Lowie with chronic pain syndrome. Lowie's
neurological surgeon testified that there is no
"definitive" cure for Lowie's pain, and that he
may possibly experience chronic pain for the remainder of his
several months following Lowie's fall, Dyer and Stuart
Platt, an insurance claim adjuster for Golden Isles,
communicated with Lowie and his wife, Concettina, regarding
Lowie's injuries. While Lowie was hospitalized in late
December 2014, Dyer told Mrs. Lowie that he had spoken with
Platt, and that he had told Platt that he and the Lowies had
been friends for "25 to 30" years. Dyer indicated
that Platt would "take real good care" of the
Lowies. According to Mrs. Lowie, Platt visited her and her
husband at their home in January 2015 and said, "I seen
the video of Bruce falling in that hole. . . .[T]hat was a
nasty accident and it was definitely negligence on [Golden
Isles'] part. . . .[W]e're going to take care of you
and make sure that everything's done right." She
added that Platt told her there was "no need to go out
and get an attorney." Likewise, Lowie explained that
Platt came to his home, "flat lied," and told him
that he did not need a lawyer.
Mrs. Lowie testified of Platt:
he was calling once or twice a week or I was calling him
because he sat down and explained to me what we had to do was
we had to run it on our insurance with Medicare and Blue
Cross Blue Shield and when there's a settlement made that
they were responsible for paying Blue Cross and Medicare
back, that's the way Stuart Platt put it to me . . . . He
said, by law, we had to go through . . . Medicare and Blue
Cross Blue Shield so that's what I did and I sent him -
and he told me to send him all the bills. He gave me his
business card, send him all the bills, all of my
out-of-pocket expenses, everything, they would reimburse me.
. . . [I]n August he called me he says - when he asked me how
Bruce was doing he asked me, he says, well, are y'all
ready to settle yet? I said, well, what do you mean on
settling? He said, well, I'll have to come and we'll
have to do it, you know, face-to-face. I said, well, Stu, I
said, that'd be all fine and good I said, but you know,
he's not well yet . . . . And that's when I told him
we wanted to get another opinion. We [were] waiting to get
into Emory because it was hard - it's hard to get in at
Emory, so - and I told him that we [were] trying to get in
there. He says, well, whatever y'all want to do, wherever
y'all want to go, we'll pay for it. We'll take
care of it.
also gave the Lowies "an example of a man that fell on a
boat deck . . . and they offered the guy $50, 000 and the guy
didn't think that was enough and he - took them to court
and . . . ended up not getting what they offered him, to
begin with." In 2015, "a couple months right before
summertime," while Mrs. Lowie was at Golden Isles'
office, Dyer called her over to speak with him. When Dyer
learned that the Lowies had not hired counsel, he thanked
Mrs. Lowie and told her, "don't worry about it,
we['re] going to take care of you." In both August
2015 and October 2015, Platt asked the Lowies whether they
were ready to settle. The Lowies received approximately $1,
800 in reimbursement, and, on December 16, 2015, almost a
year to the day after the fall, Dyer told the Lowies that
they would not receive additional reimbursement because the
one-year limitations period, as provided for in the boarding
pass, had lapsed.
sued Golden Isles in March 2016,  approximately one year and
three months after his fall. The parties do not dispute that
Lowie's boarding pass provides that all lawsuits,
including personal injury claims, must be filed within one
year from the date on which the cause of action arose. In his
complaint, however, Lowie claimed that in the year following
his fall, Dyer had telephoned him and his wife at least 70
times, Platt had telephoned them at least 30 times, and both
Dyer and Platt had contacted them in person, making
representations and engaging in conduct which Lowie alleged
estopped Golden Isles from relying on the contractual
limitations period as a defense. Specifically, Lowie claimed
that Dyer and Platt had repeatedly assured that all of his
medical bills related to the fall would be paid and that, in
reliance on these representations, he did not file suit.
Lowie also filed a motion to compel discovery seeking, inter
alia, the production of
any and all correspondence between [Golden Isles] or any of
[Golden Isles'] officers, directors, shareholders,
employees or agents of Stuart I. Platt, Platt Marine
Services, Inc.'s officers, directors, shareholders,
employees or agents . . . in any way related to [Lowie] or
the events giving rise to the above captioned-lawsuit.
made this same request with respect to Golden Isles'
supposed communications with other insurance companies that
"act[ed] in some way for the benefit" of Golden
Isles. Golden Isles, in opposing Lowie's motion to
compel, argued that the requested information was protected
from disclosure under the work product doctrine and
attorney-client privilege. Golden Isles also moved for
summary judgment on Lowie's ...