Supreme Court Rules for Baseball Player in Sports Injury Case on Issue of Litigation Costs

320px-Saipan.jpgA professional baseball player, Kouichi Taniguchi, brought an unusual claim to the U.S. Supreme Court. Taniguchi sued a hotel over an injury he sustained falling through a deck. The hotel won the case, and obtained a judgment against Taniguchi for “interpretation costs,” per a provision in federal law. Taniguchi fought this all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor in May. The case demonstrates the complex nature of expenses in litigation, and how far some parties will go to get a non-prevailing party to pay, or how far a party will go not to have to pay. The amount in dispute was just over $5,000, which makes the case even more remarkable when one considers the cost of taking a case to trial, let alone to the Supreme Court.

Taniguchi is a professional baseball player from Japan. He reportedly played for Tokyo’s Yomiuri Giants, but left after only seven games due to an injured shoulder. He also played minor league ball in the United States for a time. In November 2006, he visited the Marianas Resort and Spa in Saipan. Saipan is an island in the Northern Marianas Islands, an unincorporated, organized territory of the United States in the Pacific Ocean. During a tour of the hotel, Taniguchi fell through a deck, sustaining injuries.

Taniguchi filed suit on February 11, 2008 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands against Kan Pacific Saipan, the owner of the hotel. He alleged that he fell through a wooden deck when it collapsed on November 6, 2006. This caused him to fall “several feet” to the ground. He claimed that he suffered “cuts, bruises, and ligament tears,” which caused him to incur medical expenses and miss appearances connected to his status as a professional athlete. He asserted a premises liability claim against the defendant. The court granted summary judgment for the defendant on December 22, 2008, holding that Taniguchi had not proved that the hotel should have known of the danger. The court also awarded expenses to the defendant, which included “interpretation” costs according to a federal statute.

Kan Pacific Saipan sent Taniguchi a bill for $5,517.20, almost all of which was for document translation services for his medical records, which were mostly in Japanese. Taniguchi appealed the award of costs to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The question was whether “interpretation,” which is not specifically defined by the statute, included document translation, or was limited to oral interpretation services. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the trial court, holding that “interpretation” includes document services. Taniguchi appealed to the Supreme Court, which granted certiorari on September 27, 2011.

The Supreme Court overturned the Ninth Circuit’s ruling on May 21, 2012. A 2006 opinion from Judge Richard Posner in Chicago contradicted the Ninth Circuit’s interpretation, leading the Supreme Court to take the case. Justice Alito wrote the opinion for the 6-3 majority, relying, as Posner did, on a plain-language dictionary definition of “interpreter.” Posner’s opinion included a remark that no one would call the person who translated the Iliad and the Odyssey as the “interpreter.”

The Washington, DC injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen help people injured due to the negligence of others to assert their rights and recover their just compensation. Contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

Web Resources:

Complaint and Summons (PDF), Taniguchi v. Kan Pacific Saipan, U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands, February 11, 2008
Order Granting Defendant’s Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment (PDF), Taniguchi v. Kan Pacific Saipan, U.S. District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands, December 22, 2008
Opinion (PDF), Taniguchi v. Kan Pacific Saipan, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, March 8, 2011
Opinion of the Court (PDF), Taniguchi v. Kan Pacific Saipan, Supreme Court of the United States, May 21, 2012

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Photo credit: ‘Saipan’ by P. Miller, (Pdmiller) (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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