It was a horrible scene to witness-a couple on their honeymoon riding on the chairlift zip line at Heavenly Resort near Reno. With winds exceeding 30 m.p.h., a 6,200 foot rope broke and the husband fell to his death on rocks some 40 feet below. The wife was left clinging to the carriage and watched helplessly as her husband plummeted to his death.
A wrongful death suit was filed in El Dorado Superior Court seeking compensatory and punitive damages in the neighborhood of $15 million. The resort asked the court to throw out the punitive damages claim, but the court refused. As the case progressed, the resort acknowledged that the rope on the chairlift was “excessively worn,” had not been properly inspected, and the resort supervisors had failed to conduct a post-accident drug test of the employees involved. The widow claimed that California state officials had investigated conditions at the resort and found marijuana use among employees to be a “chronic problem.”
We will never know what a jury thought as the parties recently announced that the case had been settled for an undisclosed amount of money, as reported by RGJ.com. But included in the settlement was an agreement by the resort made public to make improvements to the chairlift, including shutting the ride down in heavy winds, and a beefing up its drug testing policy.
But even though the case settled, it is worth noting that the judge refused to throw out the claim for punitive damages and that raises the question of when are putative damages recoverable under Nevada law.
Punitive damages are awards made in addition to damages intended to compensate a victim for the sake of example and by way of punishing a defendant. Under the Nevada statute, the legal standard is that a claimant must prove by “clear and convincing evidence that a defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud or malice,” whether that is express or implied from the evidence presented. With certain exceptions, however, the amount of any such damages is capped by the legislature; if the damages to compensate an injured party is less than $100,000, then the cap is $300,000. If the amount of the compensatory award is more than $100,000, then the amount of punitive damages that may be awarded is limited to three times that amount.
For anyone injured on the premises of another, it is important that you seek the advice of an experienced Nevada personal injury attorney who can properly evaluate the circumstances to and claim-whether it be damages to compensate or damages to punish.
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