New trial ordered in The Wynn suit against businessman
July 19, 2018
The Nevada Supreme Court has ordered a new trial for an Italian businessman sued by The Wynn over a $1 million gambling debt.
Mario LaBarbera visited Las Vegas in 2008 and, while staying at The Wynn, lost $1 million of his own money and $1 million in marker credit extended to him by the resort. Those markers were left unpaid when he returned to Italy and The Wynn filed a criminal complaint over the debt and an arrest warrant was issued.
At trial, the district judge granted the resort's motions to prohibit LaBarbera from arguing he has a gambling addiction exacerbated by the fact he was severely intoxicated at the time. The judge also barred LaBarbera from testifying by video conference from Italy.
The jury found LaBarbera owed $1 million. With interest, attorney fees and other costs, the court ordered him to pay $2.6 million.
On appeal, the high court agreed the district court abused its discretion when it prohibited LaBarbera from testifying by video conference form Italy. The opinion by Justice Jim Hardesty quotes Supreme Court rules which state courts, "shall permit parties, to the extent feasible, to appear by simultaneous audio-visual transmission equipment…."
The opinion said barring that testimony was prejudicial in the eyes of the jury and prevented him from responding to other testimony presented at trial.
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The opinion also agrees with LaBarbera's argument he should have been allowed to present evidence of his excessive intoxication when he signed the casino markers. He argued he was so intoxicated he became physically ill and vomited.
The opinion points out the high court has previously held that intoxication may render a person incompetent because his reason and understanding is so impaired as to "render him mentally unsound."
The high court agreed with The Wynn's lawyers LaBarbera may have difficulty proving his intoxication defense at trial because that argument sets a high bar of proof.
"But those arguments do not justify the district court's decision to bar LaBarbera from making his argument altogether."
The opinion sends the case back to district court, ordering a new trial where LaBarbera can testify by video conference and make his argument he was too intoxicated to be held to liable for the casino markers he signed.
The opinion was signed by the panel of Justices Hardesty and Kris Pickering and Chief Justice Mark Gibbons.