Nevada Supreme Court ruling could expose MGM Resorts in Las Vegas shooting

Updated November 19, 2017 - 7:32 am

Just days after the Oct. 1 shooting, a Nevada Supreme Court panel issued a decision that could sharpen questions about the adequacy of security at Mandalay Bay and increase its liability.

The ruling is hovering over the hotel-casino and its owner, MGM Resorts International, as the company braces for a run of lawsuits related to the shooting and an expensive, yearslong court battle. A shooter killed 58 concertgoers and injured more than 500 others at the Route 91 Harvest music festival across the street from his 32nd-floor Mandalay Bay suite before apparently taking his own life.

The Supreme Court case stemmed from an assault in 2010 on a California couple, Carey Humphries and Lorenzo Rocha, inside the New York-New York, another MGM property. A lower court dismissed their lawsuit on the grounds the resort had no knowledge the attack would occur.

But in a 2-1 decision, the Supreme Court panel overturned that order. It ruled that the New York-New York should have known the attack was foreseeable because there had been similar incidents of violence there. Humphries and Rocha were attacked by a man at the casino, and she suffered a fractured skull. Evidence in the case showed there were three fights a week at the resort.

Justices James Hardesty and Ron Parraguirre were in the majority, and Justice Kristina Pickering dissented.

Craig Drummond, one of the lawyers who appealed to the high court on behalf of the couple, said the decision provides “pretty clear guidance” on cases of violence at hotel-casinos, including the Strip shooting.

“You no longer have to show the exact circumstance was foreseeable,” he said. “I think it makes it difficult for MGM Resorts to get the Mandalay Bay case dismissed by arguing it’s a lone shooter and they couldn’t have ever foreseen that.”

Longtime civil litigator Robert Eglet said the decision opens the door for plaintiffs to question whether MGM Resorts had sufficient security measures to protect its casino guests and those at the Las Vegas Village concert site, which the company also owns.

Those questions have surfaced in the most recent round of lawsuits.

The Humphries decision also could be interpreted to include similar incidents of mass violence at venues other than Mandalay Bay, said Eglet, who is preparing to sue MGM Resorts on behalf of victims of the shooting.

“I think it broadens the scope of the things a judge has to look at to determine whether this event was foreseeable,” Eglet said. “In other words, it’s no longer, ‘Has anything like this ever happened at Mandalay Bay?’ It’s, ‘Has anything happened like this anywhere?’”

But Jean Sternlight, director of the Saltman Center for Conflict Resolution at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law, said Mandalay Bay still has a strong defense under state law.

The company’s lawyers likely will argue that it was unforeseeable that a guest would bring a large number of high-powered rifles into the resort and shoot at a concert across the street, Sternlight said.

“I think the victims will have a challenging time trying to prove that Mandalay Bay failed to exercise due care in protecting the concertgoers,” she said.

MGM Resorts lawyers filed court papers this month asking the entire Supreme Court to review the panel’s decision on the Humphries case, arguing it has “significant implications beyond just these litigants.”

The lawyers contended the 11-page opinion “eviscerates”a state law that protects businesses.

Reversing the panel’s decision could spur criticism that the court is trying to protect the powerful casino industry, Eglet said.

“I don’t think it would pass the smell test,” said Eglet, a former Nevada Trial Lawyers Association president who has won several large jury verdicts in recent years.

Tragedy after tragedy

The massive litigation compares to another tragedy that cost MGM a large legal settlement: the infamous fire at the old MGM Grand, which killed 87 people and injured more than 700.

On Nov. 21, 1980, a smoldering electrical fire broke through a wall in the first-floor deli, creating a giant fireball that swept through the hotel-casino, blowing out the front doors and leaving behind death and destruction.

The wall of fire was fueled by flammable plastic furnishings, fixtures and wall coverings. There were no sprinklers in place to dampen the intense flames.

Some died trying to beat the fast-moving blaze out the casino entrance, but most fell victim to smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning in the 25 floors above the casino as a stream of thick black smoke traveled up through elevator shafts, air ducts and other openings.

Litigation over the fire was hard-fought and lasted years. It never went to trial.

For its share of the settlement, MGM had paid more than $100 million by 1983, which would amount to about $260 million in today’s dollars. Several years later, the company rebuilt and sold the MGM Grand to Bally’s Corp., which rebranded the property on Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard.

MGM went on to become the largest employer and one of most politically influential businesses in the state, with 13 hotel-casinos on the Strip, including a new MGM Grand on Tropicana Avenue.

Like the Strip shooting, most of the fire victims were tourists. Lawsuits were filed across the country, and eventually the cases were consolidated in federal court in Las Vegas. There were more than 1,000 plaintiffs and more than 100 defendants.

Some legal experts described it as the largest mass disaster litigation of its time.

Consolidation expected

Lawyers expect the shooting lawsuits to be consolidated, as well, once they are all filed. There is a two-year statute of limitations.

Eglet believes the shooting has had a greater impact on the community than the MGM Grand fire.

“This wasn’t just an accidental fire because of negligence or product defect that hurt a lot of people,” said Eglet, who expects to be at the center of the high-profile case in the months ahead. “This was a direct attack on our city. And so I think everybody collectively feels that anxiousness, that anxiety and that distress over this happening to us.”

But Steve Morris, who defended MGM in the fire case, said it may still be more difficult for victims to blame the company in the mass shooting case.

“Here you have an abhorrent actor who just happened to be in the hotel,” Morris said. “The guy took a hammer, knocked the windows out and started shooting people. It’s not an act by the hotel.”

Veteran lawyer Will Kemp, a key player on the plaintiffs’ side in the fire litigation, said that argument can’t be ignored.

“They’ve got the shooter committing an intentional act that they can argue was not foreseeable,” he said.

Eglet plans to join forces with lawyers across the country in a barrage of lawsuits over the shooting. Investigators hired by Eglet are digging up evidence, even as Las Vegas police have yet to complete their own criminal investigation.

Questions ahead

As big as the fire litigation was, there is potential for many more victims to sue over the shooting, Eglet said.

There were only 5,000 people staying at the MGM Grand in 1980, but more than 20,000 attended the Route 91 Harvest music festival.

Many of those people are suffering from stress, Eglet said.

“Look, there are people right now who can’t sleep, who are having nightmares, and it’s playing over and over in their head and they’re having all kinds of problems,” he said. “They can’t work. They can’t function properly. I mean, this was turned into a battlefield.”

Added to those complaints will be the cases of the people killed at the festival and the survivors who were shot or trampled while fleeing the hail of gunfire, Eglet said.

Kemp said filing a case in California might be more favorable to a plaintiff, because MGM Resorts is not as well-known there.

“They give a lot of money to judges and politicians in Nevada, like most big employers do,” said Kemp, who does not plan to be involved in the legal fight. “So they have a lot of influence here in the state.”

“It’s not so much that you’re worried about them paying off a judge or a judge being biased. It’s more like you’re in their hometown. They’re going to get the close calls.”

High-profile personal injury lawyer Ed Bernstein shares Kemp’s concerns about the company’s potential influence.

“When the MGM fire occurred, the MGM did not have the same kind of reach that it has now,” said Bernstein, who is considering lawsuits against the company.

So far, fewer than two dozen lawsuits have been filed in Las Vegas and California over the shooting. Fourteen victims, mostly alleging they suffered stress during the massacre, filed cases in the Clark County District Court on Wednesday.

Eglet said he is encouraging lawyers across the country to wait.

“I think that the community has to have time to heal,” he said. “We need to do our due diligence before we start filing all of these lawsuits. We need to let Metro finish their investigation and let the FBI finish their investigation.”

Eglet said he wants to make sure that he is suing the appropriate defendants.

But the scrutiny eventually will come.

There will be hundreds of depositions and hundreds of thousands of pages of court filings seeking company records about its security procedures, staffing levels and management history, lawyers said.

And the company will face the same questions testing its liability over and over again in court. Much of the case could turn on how the shooter turned his room into a sniper’s nest with an arsenal of weapons without being detected.

At the concert site, many questions center on whether there were enough exits and security officers on hand and whether there was an emergency evacuation plan, Eglet and Kemp said.

Once the shooting started, there was no direction from security officers telling people what to do or where to go, Eglet said.

“It was pandemonium, just a free-for-all,” he said.

The questions continue to grow as police and MGM Resorts officials remain quiet about key facts surrounding the massacre.

“There’s going to be a vast amount of discovery done in this case to figure out exactly what happened and what went wrong,” Eglet said.

Valet parking attendants, bellmen, housekeepers, security officers, front desk clerks, casino hosts and executives all will be among those questioned under oath, lawyers said.

MGM Resorts would not comment on the litigation.

In a statement, the company said: “The tragic incident that took place on October 1st was a meticulously planned, evil senseless act. Out of respect for the victims we are not going to try this case in the public domain and we will give our response through the appropriate legal channels.”

Eglet said he was confident that the litigation will bring out the truth.

Added Kemp: “Oh yeah, you will find the truth. Fifty-eight people dead, more than 500 injured. Yeah, the truth will come out.”

Contact Jeff German at jgerman@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4564. Follow @JGermanRJ on Twitter.

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Update from LVMPD on Sunset Park homicide. Releasing suspect's name (Blake Apgar)
Sunset Park Homicide
Police give details about Sunset Park homicide on Sunday, April 15, 2018. (Blake Apgar)
Security guard thwarts mailbox vandals
A security guard at the Covington at Coronado Ranch apartment complex ended up in the hospital after thwarting a group of mailbox vandals on Monday morning. According to Las Vegas police, about 12:45 a.m. the guard saw a group of people trying to break into mailboxes at the central Las Vegas complex when he confronted them. The group jumped into a vehicle and while trying to flee, struck the guard. The guard was hospitalized with injures that were not life-threatening. The suspects fled and remain at-large.
Las Vegas police looking for robbery suspects
Authorities are looking for three men who police said used a weapon on their victims in a recent string of robberies across the Las Vegas Valley. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Las Vegas police looking for robbery suspects
Authorities are looking for three men who police said used a weapon on their victims in a recent string of robberies across the Las Vegas Valley. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Metro investigates an officer-involved shooting in east Las Vegas
Las Vegas police investigate an officer-involved shooting at Madge Lane and Mabel Road, between Charleston Boulevard and Stewart Avenue, Friday, April 6, 2018, in Las Vegas. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
Robbery Surveillance Video
Police are searching for a man suspected of robbing two Las Vegas clothing stores in one week.
Retail Restroom Sexual Assault Suspect
Las Vegas police are asking for help finding a man they said groped a woman in a south Las Vegas Valley restroom. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Calvary Christian Learning Academy, “There was no fair warning.”
Samantha O’Brien, whose three-year-old daughter attended the Calvary Christian Learning Academy daycare, found out Monday night when her daughter’s teacher called about the school closing.
Paintball Attacks -- People injured in Las Vegas (LVMPD)
A recent series of drive-by paintball shootings in Las Vegas has resulted in the endangerment and injury of multiple people. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
USPS truck carjacked
Surveillance video of a USPS truck being carjacked on March 10. Search for suspects and pictures of suspects.
New York New York Robbery (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
A white man suspected of robbing a Strip casino in blackface in January was charged Friday in federal court, records show. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Las Vegas police arrest man with guns and ammo
Las Vegas police arrested a man sitting in car who was found with guns and ammo in his trunk. The video was captured by Steven Gibson and posted to his Facebook page.
LVMPD Seeks Assistance Identifying Suspects In Lottery Ticket Scam
During the month of February, two victims have been identified by LVMPD Financial Crimes detectives as being victims of a lottery ticket scam. These victims were approached by a suspect who claimed to have a winning lottery ticket and needed legal assistance to cash it.
Metro Lt. Raymond Spencer discusses details of a murder-suicide in the east valley
Metro homicide Lt. Raymond Spencer discuses details of a murder-suicide in the east valley that left two men dead on March 6. (Blake Apgar/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Lounge Shooting
Las Vegas police on Wednesday released surveillance video of man suspected of firing several shots into the Las Vegas Lounge late last week. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Detectives Seek To Identify Burglary Suspect
Spring Valley Area Command Patrol Detectives are seeking the public’s assistance in identifying a male who has been responsible for approximately eight burglaries in the area of Oakey Boulevard and Rancho Drive since January 2018. During these incidents, the suspect makes entry through a rear window or a sliding patio backdoor. The suspect is described as a black male between 20 and 30 years of age, slender with an athletic build. A vehicle of interest in these incidents is described as a white Nissan Pathfinder with a red and white bumper sticker.
Cabana Market Shooting -- Persons of Interest
On February 3, 2018 at approximately 1:57 p.m., patrol officers were dispatched to a parking lot located in the 3900 block of East Owens Avenue to investigate a report that a man had been shot. Responding officers located an unresponsive adult male suffering from a gunshot wound. The victim was pronounced deceased at the scene. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Las Vegas Mob Museum adds new interactive exhibits
The Las Vegas Mob Museum previews it’s recent renovation and three new attractions including Organized Crime Today, Use of Force Training Experience and a Crime Lab.
Two Suspects Arrested in Deadly West Las Vegas Shooting, Kidnapping
Officers identified a second suspect in a deadly shooting and abduction Wednesday in the west valley, police said. Jessica Tolentino-Arciga, 26, was booked into the Clark County Detention Center on Wednesday in connection with the incident, according to police. Officers previously accused Joseph L. Fernandez Jr., 27, of breaking into his ex-girlfriend’s home just before 4 a.m. He is suspected of abducting his ex-girlfriend, Mandy Hernandez, in a gray BMW sedan and shooting her friend.
Video of attempted kidnapping suspect's car
Las Vegas police are attempting to identify a suspect in 2 attempted kidnappings. The suspect's vehicle was described a red four door sedan with silver trim around the windows. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Media Briefing: OIS #3 for 2018 -- Suicidal Subject Points Gun at Officer
Assistant Sheriff Charles Hank meets with members of the media to discuss additional details about the officer involved shooting that occurred on February 6, 2018. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
Metro Homicide Lt. Dan McGrath speaks about a homicide and kidnapping
Las Vegas police are investigating a homicide and kidnapping in the 3300 block of Robin Nest Court, near Desert Inn Road and Hulalapai Way. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Homeless being targeted by unknown shooter
Capt. Robert Plummer of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department briefs the media on the recent shootings of four homeless men.
Douglas Haig talks to reporters
Douglas Haig, identified as a person of interest in documents related to the Las Vegas shooting, spoke to reporters Tuesday evening outside his home in Mesa, Arizona. (Madison Miller/Las Vegas Review-Journal Correspondent)
Suspected Aria counterfeiter hurt jumping off Harmon overpass
A man who allegedly tried to use a counterfeit bill at the Aria was hospitalized after he jumped off an overpass trying to escape police. About 2 a.m. Tuesday, security at the Aria flagged down police. When police tried to talk to him, the man fled and led police on a foot chase, according to Lt. David Gordon. The chase ended at the Harmon Avenue overpass above Interstate 15, when the man jumped off the side and landed in the rocky landscaping below. The man was taken to the hospital for evaluation.
Rancho Discount Mall shooting
Las Vegas police are investigating a deadly shooting Monday morning in central Las Vegas. A man was found dead after 3 a.m. outside the Rancho Discount Mall at 2901 W. Washington Ave. The man had been shot once. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Police have blocked off the parking lot in front of the store while detectives investigate. At 5 a.m., the man’s body was still on scene, laying on the walkway near a shopping cart and a pile of blankets.
Deadly shooting on Calimesa Street
Las Vegas police are investigating a fatal shooting Monday morning on the 4200 block of Calimesa Street. An adult man was found in front of a house with multiple gunshot wounds. He was taken to a hospital where he died, according to Metropolitan Police Lt. David Gordon. Homicide detectives also are investigating another deadly shooting that occurred a short time after the Calimesa Street shooting. A person was killed at 2901 W. Washington Ave.
Man shoots wife and 15-year-old stepdaughter in Las Vegas
Las Vegas teen accused of sexual deviancy in elementary school
A Las Vegas teen accused of raping 4 of his classmates had been disciplined for sexual deviancy in elementary school Maysen Melton was suspended from Bracken Elementary for allegedly sexually harassing classmates He was later disciplined for sexual deviancy at three different middle schools Melton now faces 23 felony counts for allegedly raping 4 of his classmates at Shadow Ridge High School Melton may face additional charges after another victim came forward, alleging Melton sexually abused her in October In one alleged incident, Melton pushed a girl to the floor before raping her He allegedly responded by saying, "No means yes"' and "I know you’ll like it in the end." District Judge Jennifer Togliatti pointed to an "astronomical probability of conviction" and raised Melton's bail from $200,000 to $500,000
Deadly shooting in south Las Vegas
Las Vegas police are investigating a Friday shooting that left a woman in the south valley dead. Police believe her husband shot and killed her at a house on Giles Street. The shooter as of 1:30 a.m. remained on the loose and was considered armed and dangerous. A police helicopter circled the sky looking for the suspect. Neighbors could be seen peeking through window curtains as police secured the neighborhood and warned people to stay inside.
Judge Doug Herndon confronts Bryan Clay in Las Vegas
Bryan Clay was sentenced to life in prison without parole in December for the rape and murder of a mother and her 10-year-old daughter. On Thursday, he was in court again to be sentenced for other charges, including robbery, kidnapping and sexual assault of a minor under 14 . Prosecutors told Judge Doug Herndon Thursday that Clay can be heard on his jail phone conversations saying he “tricked jurors, that he’ll be back soon, that he’ll in fact get his appeal more quickly.” Judge Doug Herndon told him the case has haunted him since “opening statements.” Briana Erickson/ Las Vegas Review-Journal
Las Vegas arrest warrant details Floyd Mayweather Sr. assault accusation
Las Vegas police said Floyd Mayweather Sr. dragged a woman by the leg from the backseat of his car and punched her after a boxing match on the Strip, according to court documents obtained Thursday. The father of boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. battered her hours after the Sept. 16 fight at T-Mobile Arena between Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin, the elder Mayweather’s arrest warrant said. The woman and her husband had attended the fight with Mayweather Sr. and his girlfriend, the Metropolitan Police Department wrote in his arrest warrant. Police said Mayweather Sr. pulled her from the car and battered her. He then drove off, leaving the woman and her husband in a parking lot. A warrant for his arrest was issued Jan. 16. Mayweather Sr. was in Clark County Detention Center Wednesday, but has since posted bond.
Las Vegas teen accused of raping classmates appears in court
A Las Vegas teen accused of raping 4 of his Shadow Ridge classmates appeared in court Thursday Maysen Melton faces 23 felony counts, including charges of sexual assault District Judge Jennifer Togliatti pointed to an "astronomical probability of conviction" and raised Melton's bail Judge Togliatti also said she worried that someone walking by Melton's house could be at risk Melton's bail was raised from $200,000 to $500,000
Las Vegas police investigate kidnapping, carjacking and robbery at Best Buy
Shortly before 6 a.m., a man was approached by two men in the parking lot of a Best Buy at 6950 Arroyo Crossing, near the 215 Beltway and South Rainbow Boulevard. Police said at least one of the two suspects was armed with a handgun. The suspects forced the man into his car and made him drive to an ATM, where he withdrew an unknown amount of money for the suspects, Metropolitan Police Department Lt. David Gordon said. The two men then instructed the victim to drive to a convenience store at 4030 W. Charleston Blvd., where they told him to get out of his vehicle. Police said the suspects fled north on Hinson Street in the man’s car.
Life
Art Bell’s Top 10 Shows
A selection of radio host Art Bell’s most popular shows.
Calvary Christian Learning Academy, “There was no fair warning.”
Samantha O’Brien, whose three-year-old daughter attended the Calvary Christian Learning Academy daycare, found out Monday night when her daughter’s teacher called about the school closing.
Companies bet their futures on cryptocurrency
Two Las Vegas entrepreneurs talk about finding their niche in blockchain enabled technologies and digital currency.
Solar panels reduce energy bill for CCSD
Wilbur and Theresa Faiss Middle School is one of 42 CCSD schools with solar panel installations, saving approximately $514,000 per year in energy costs.
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