Partner Shayne Wulterin and Senior Counsel Kevin Lazar Defense Multi-Million Dollar Federal Case in Nevada

The lawsuit involved a wrongful death action filed in the United States District Court, District of Nevada against a prominent rental car company.  Plaintiffs, who resided in Brazil, alleged claims for dangerous conditions at a premises, negligent entrustment, negligent infliction of emotional distress, general negligence and loss of consortium. The trial lasted two weeks and the 8-member jury reached a unanimous defense verdict after 6 hours of deliberating.

Decedent and her spouse were visiting Las Vegas from São Paulo, Brazil on holiday during the Christmas season in 2016.  They rented a vehicle from the rental car company and planned to return it on New Year’s Day.

On January 1, 2017, decedent and her husband arrived at the McCarran International ConRAC facility to return their rental vehicle. While they were unloading luggage from their vehicle, another renter visiting from Southern California, confused the brake pedal and accelerator in his rental car.  At a high rate of speed, he sped through the rental facility and ran over decedent and an employee with the rental car company, smashing into five different cars.  Decedent was immediately rendered unconscious and taken to the hospital where she was in a coma for 2+ weeks.  After several surgeries, decedent was airlifted back to Brazil where she lived for three years with severe traumatic brain injuries that were undisputed.  She was reduced to assistive devices and wearing diapers, requiring 24/7 care. She eventually died of sepsis in April 2020.

Plaintiffs alleged several theories of liability against the rental car company, primarily asserting that the rental return area was negligently designed due to a reallocation of the facility in 2012 when the return lanes were widened by the rental car company from 10 feet to 15 feet. Plaintiffs claimed there were no other facilities in the nation with 15’ wide lanes.  Plaintiffs also claimed that the renter, who committed pedal error, contacted the rental company several times to complain that the car he was driving was defective. Plaintiffs asserted that the rental company did nothing and ignored these requests to replace the vehicle.

Plaintiffs demanded $27+ million dollars at trial. This included wage loss, medical bills of $4+ million and general damages, among other damages.   Before trial, the defense made a statutory offer of $3.95 million that plaintiffs rejected.  This was increased to $4M the day before trial.  Plaintiffs never countered below $25 million.

The defense was able to limit plaintiffs’ experts’ testimony at a hotly contested Daubert hearing.   The defense also moved for a judgment on the pleadings under FRCP Rule 50 when plaintiffs rested their case.   Although the motion was denied, the defense successfully defeated the negligent entrustment claim, which was important because it eliminated the issue involving the claimed phone calls that the vehicle was defective.

Minutes before the verdict, plaintiffs’ counsel approached the rental car company about settlement. The defense floated $2 million dollars, but this was rejected. The defense verdict was issued by the jury within the next 20 minutes.