Split decision wipes out punitive damages in casino abuse case
June 2, 2003
On a 4-3 vote, the Nevada Supreme Court has ruled that the Gold Coast Hotel/Casino can’t be hit for punitive damages for the conduct of a security manager.
The case involved the arrest and beating of Dedric Holman, after he and his girlfriend Christina Edwards were ordered to leave the Las Vegas casino. The jury agreed guards violated the woman’s rights by frisking her, touching all parts of her body, and making derogatory comments about her dating a black man.
When Holman got into a fight with guards after those comments, they beat him to the ground, punching and kicking him and hitting him with nightsticks while their security supervisor, Michael Malloy, watched.
Witnesses saw the beatings continue after Holman was handcuffed. There was also testimony that the beatings continued after he was taken to the security office.
The guards denied everything, but a jury ruled against them, granting Holman $178,000 in compensatory damages and a total of $281,700 in punitive damages. The jury also awarded Edwards $20,000 in compensatory damages and $93,000 in punitive damages from the Gold Coast.
In a majority opinion signed by Justices Miriam Shearing, Deborah Agosti, Nancy Becker and Mark Gibbons, the high court threw out the punitive damages, saying the club can’t be held liable for Malloy’s violation of its established policies for handling such situations.
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That drew a sharply worded dissent from justices Bob Rose, Bill Maupin and Myron Leavitt.
“The practical effect of the majority decision will be to insulate corporations from punitive damages for the vast majority of acts of malice or outrageous behavior committed by their supervisors and managers,” the dissent states. “This is bad law and poor public policy.
“At a time when we have seen many illegal and outrageous acts committed by corporate America, it is not appropriate to reduce corporate responsibility for such egregious action.”