The Honorable Miranda M. Du, United States District Judge of the District of Nevada, has denied Schindler Elevator Corporation’s attempt to dismiss a case brought against the company by John Deatherage. Mr. Deatherage is represented by Laddey, Clark and Ryan in Sparta, New Jersey.
Mr. Deatherage was injured on July 19, 2014, at the Harvey’s Lake Tahoe Resort and Casino in Nevada, when the elevator he was in suddenly dropped and came to a very hard stop. Mr. Deatherage experienced a force of twice his body weight pushing down upon him, which caused permanent damage to his spine. Unfortunately, Mr. Deatherage required spinal fusion surgery in his low back and still experiences a great deal of pain.
The elevator in which Mr. Deatherage was injured was maintained by Schindler, which had a contract with Harvey’s. However, despite an obligation to inspect the elevators every two weeks, Schindler had not looked at the elevator’s controller for 243 days. Moreover, the elevator had a history of hard stops prior to the malfunction and by Schindler’s records indicate the elevator required “more troubleshooting” to determine the cause, but there was no record of any additional work being performed.
Although Schindler claims it did nothing wrong, in a fifteen-page decision issued on July 24, 2017, the court found that not only has enough evidence been presented to allow a negligence case against Schindler to proceed to trial, it also found that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitus is applicable to this case. The doctrine is a Latin phrase that translates to “the thing speaks for itself;” it means this malfunction would not have happened unless there was negligence. It shifts the burden of explaining why the elevator malfunctioned from Mr. Deatherage to Schindler, which now must explain to the jury why it is not responsible for the falling elevator it contracted to maintain.
Finally, the court denied Schindler’s Motion to dismiss Mr. Deatherage’s claim for punitive damages. Punitive damages are in addition to those for a plaintiff’s personal harms and losses. They are meant to be a deterrent to others and to punish the wrongdoer. Under Nevada law, to recover punitive damages a plaintiff has to show that a defendant acted with “malice,” meaning despicable conduct which is engaged in with a conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others. This standard is met when a defendant shows a purposely ignores an accepted safety procedure.
In this case, the court, recognizing the evidence of Schindler’s failure to follow its contract with Harvey’s, its own preventative maintenance schedule, and to correct a known problem with the elevator, found that Mr. Deatherage “has presented sufficient evidence concerning Schindler’s possible conscious disregard of safety procedures” to deny Schindler’s attempt to dismiss the punitive damage claim.
The court has ordered the parties to appear before a Magistrate Judge to attempt to settle the claim and if unable to do so it will proceed to trial.