Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Civil Liability Against Casinos

Litigating cases against casinos for the actions of third parties (assaults, batteries, etc.) just got a little harder.  The Nevada Supreme Court interpreted Nevada Revised Statute 651.015 for the first time in Smith v. Mahoney's Silver Nugget - 127 Nev. Adv. Op. 76 (2011).  I had the responsibility of drafting/arguing the underlying motion for summary judgment at the district court level that resulted in dismissal of Mr. Smith's case, and the duty of drafting the supplemental briefing requested by the Supreme Court as to the interpretation of duty as defined by NRS 651.015.  As such, I am probably the most knowledgeable about this issue.   

In Smith, the Supreme Court clarified that a district court has discretion to determine "duty" in determining if an innkeeper (hotel) should be liable for the criminal acts of third parties.  In most instances, the acts are thefts or assaults that result in the injury to the victim.  In 1993, the Nevada Supreme Court opined in Doud v. Las Vegas Hilton Corp. 109 Nev. 109, 864 P.2d 796 that innkeepers are liable for these actions if the "totality of the circumstances" illustrated notice.  In response, the Nevada Resorts lobby had NRS 651.015 passed in 1995 that shifted the question of duty back to the court.  The Smith Court held that Doud did not abrogate the court's role in assessing duty, but ultimately upheld the dismissal based on the underlying factual findings by the district court.
Ultimately, this was a dream case for the resort industry to clarify NRS 651.015 and duty.  Mr. Smith's estate had an extremely weak case for multiple factual reasons.  There are likely ways for future plaintiffs to distinguish themselves from Smith, but that would likely require an attorney who is familiar with the appropriate legal arguments to do so.  Additionally, there are also hurdles related to causation (Bower v. Harrah’s Laughlin, Inc., 125 Nev. 37, ___, 215 P.2d 709, 724 (2009)), so future litigants should be wary of the potential difficulties in bringing a case against an innkeeper.

No comments:

Post a Comment