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Nevada Supreme Court reverses $3.5M slip and fall ruling

The judge in a slip and fall lawsuit filed against a Las Vegas restaurant made an error in how he instructed the jury prior to deliberations, the Nevada Supreme Court recently ruled. Based on that error, the state's top court sent the case back to the trial court, throwing out the $3.5 million judgment granted to the plaintiff by the original jury.

The personal injury case involves a 2004 incident at Carmine's Little Italy restaurant in Las Vegas. The plaintiff was a guest at the restaurant who slipped and fell on a greasy or oily patch on the floor while walking to the bathroom. She suffered substantial injuries in the fall that required a total of $400,000 in medical bills. She later sued Carmine's Little Italy and the family that owns the restaurant, arguing that the defendant knowingly left the floor in an unsafe condition.

According to the Supreme Court ruling, after testimony in the trial ended, the judge gave the jury a mode of operation instruction. Depending on the sort of business involved, some plaintiffs in slip-and-fall cases do not need to prove that the business knew about the dangerous condition that caused the injury. In those sorts of cases, if the business' "mode of operation" makes it reasonably foreseeable that a dangerous condition will develop and fails to take reasonable steps to prevent that from happening, it could be held liable for the plaintiff's injuries.

In the context of restaurants, the Supreme Court wrote, the mode of operation rule applies to self-service restaurants. But Carmine's Little Italy is a sit-down restaurant, so the variation to the general rules did not apply, the court held. Therefore, the judge erred by giving the instruction.

Despite the reversal, the plaintiff's claim may not be dead. The court sent the case back to the trial level, meaning that she could still prevail.

Source: Las Vegas Sun, "Court overturns $3.5 million slip-and-fall judgment," Cy Ryan, June 14, 2012

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