|By Steve Green, Las Vegas
SunMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
April 19, 2011--A customer injured when a sports book patron dived for a water bottle thrown into the crowd by a cheerleader has won $6.6 million in his lawsuit against the Palms hotel-casino in Las Vegas.
After a nonjury trial, Clark County District Court Judge Jessie Walsh signed the judgment in favor of Enrique Rodriguez on April 11.
Rodriguez lives in Riverside, Calif., and alleged premises liability and negligent supervision in his lawsuit against the Palms.
Walsh awarded him about $377,000 for past medical expenses, $1.8 million for future medical expenses, $1.2 million for past pain and suffering, $1.8 million for future pain and suffering, $289,000 for past lost income, $422,000 for future lost income, $427,000 in pre-judgment interest and $149,000 in legal fees and costs.
The Palms, which denied liability for the actions of the independent contractor cheerleader or the female patron who crashed into Rodriguez, is asking for a new trial.
In court papers, the Palms said the promotional water bottle was thrown during halftime without its knowledge and against its policy.
Palms attorneys questioned Rodriguez's claims, saying that he claimed immediate pain and injury but instead of going to the hospital right away he insisted on completing an accident/injury report at the casino.
They noted his claimed injuries resulting from the incident ranged from conditions like knee pain, back pain, neck pain, sleep apnea, depression and obesity to ingrown toenails.
Medical experts for Rodriguez, however, provided evidence substantiating his claims of multiple injuries.
In their 2006 lawsuit, attorneys for Rodriguez said that on Nov. 22, 2004, he was watching Monday Night Football at the sports book when one of the contracted "Palms Girls," Brandy L. Beavers, participated in a promotion by throwing souvenirs to sports book patrons.
"A customer within the sports book/sports bar dove for a thrown souvenir and hit plaintiff's extended and stationary left knee. Plaintiff then struck the person next to him, hitting the left side of his head, then falling down, thereby sustaining the injuries and damages alleged," the lawsuit said.
The suit claimed Palms officials had failed to properly instruct and supervise Beavers in her duties "distributing souvenirs to a crowd" and didn't have reasonable methods of crowd control during the event.
After the trial, Walsh signed an order finding that prior to the November 2004 incident, the Palms was aware that promotional items were being thrown into crowds at events there and that "defendant knew this behavior was inappropriate because it was a safety issue."
In fact, Sheri Long, director of marketing, testified she had conducted a staff meeting instructing staff not to allow items to be thrown into crowds and that the injuries sustained by Rodriguez were exactly the type she was concerned would occur.
Vikki Kooinga, risk manager at the Palms, acknowledged in her testimony that this type of activity was inappropriate, wrong and beneath the standard of care for the hotel in protecting the safety of patrons.
Kooinga also testified she would have expected hotel security to stop anyone from throwing items into a crowd.
"Despite this awareness, after said staff meeting, and with knowledge of said foreseeable risk of harm, defendant constructed a goal post in the sports book for purposes of promotional items to be thrown," said the order signed by Walsh.
Records show Beavers, who had moved to Arizona, was a defaulting defendant who didn't answer the lawsuit. Walsh found her 40 percent liable for Rodriguez's injuries and the Palms 60 percent. But given their joint liability, the Palms and its insurers may be responsible for the total amount.
In the latest development in the case, National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pa., sued the Palms and Rodriguez on Tuesday, saying it shouldn't be held responsible for covering the Palms' damages.
The insurer charged in the lawsuit that even though the Palms was sued in 2006, it didn't inform National Union about the case until September 2010.
National Union has denied coverage for the incident -- in part because off Palms' alleged failure to notify it of the suit -- and is asking the federal court in Las Vegas to sustain that decision.
The Palms has not yet responded to Tuesday's lawsuit and it does not comment on litigation.
Affiliates of the Greenspun family, owner of the Las Vegas Sun, are minority investors in the Palms.
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