College Awarded $125K in Court Costs in Action by Injured Gymnast

A federal magistrate judge has awarded Cornell University nearly $125,000 in costs following an unsuccessful action by an injured student. In Duschesneau v. Cornell University, the student sought over $75 million from Cornell following an injury while participating a campus gymnastics club, which rendered the student a quadriplegic. The action was based upon the contention that Cornell was negligent in failing to instruct and supervise the student. Cornell obtained a jury verdict in its favor after contending that it was reasonable and customary for members of club to use the gymnasium without supervision and instruction.

​After the verdict was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the trial court clerk awarded Cornell nearly $104,000 in costs. Cornell contended that it was entitled to approximately $23,000 in additional costs for the costs of editing, synchronizing, and playing back videotaped deposition excerpts at trial. The plaintiff argued that the costs must be decreased by approximately $57,000 to account for duplicate charges for videotaped depositions and deposition transcripts.

​The magistrate judge denied the plaintiff’s request to decrease the award, and awarded the vast majority of additional costs sought by Cornell. In so doing, the magistrate rejected Cornell’s argument that the videotaped depositions were necessary to be on equal footing at trial. However, the magistrate noted that both parties made use of the videotapes as well as the transcripts. Specifically, both parties introduced videotaped deposition testimony during trial, while utilizing deposition transcripts in motions for summary judgment and partial summary judgment. The magistrate further noted that several videotaped deposition excerpts were challenged by the plaintiff, making the transcripts necessary to comply with the court’s ruling upon the objections. In awarding additional costs for the preparation and playback of the videotaped deposition excerpts at trial, the magistrate agreed with Cornell’s contention that these costs were necessary to ensure that the excerpts presented at trial were in compliance with the Court’s orders on fifty-six motions in limine.

The magistrate also upheld an award of costs for multiple copies of deposition transcripts, holding that this was appropriate as Cornell was defended by two law firms. In addition, the magistrate upheld an award of costs for expedited trial transcripts, noting that such transcripts were utilized in motions in limine filed throughout the trial, and were necessary due to the length and complexity of the trial. While granting most of the additional costs sought by Cornell, the magistrate disallowed approximately $2,500 in costs for disks containing deposition transcripts and summaries of the deposition transcripts, concluding that these were merely for the convenience of the parties and were therefore not taxable.

​Duschesneau demonstrates that an award of costs for certain items is often contingent upon a showing that such items were necessary for preparing and trying a case. Therefore, parties seeking costs for expenses that may be somewhat out of the ordinary should be prepared to justify such demands by demonstrating the necessity of such expenses in litigating the matter.