COUGHLIN v TAILHOOK
112 F.3d 1052 (1997)
United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit
Facts: During a convention at the Las Vegas Hilton in September 1991, Navy Lieutenant Paula Coughlin was attacked by a group of men in a hotel hallway. The resulting post-traumatic stress disorder and other problems related to the attack eventually hampered her ability to perform her duties. Ultimately, she resigned from the US Navy. Coughlin brought action against the Hilton Hotels Corporation (HCC), the Las Vegas Hilton Corporation (LVHC) and the Tailhook Association for negligence seeking both compensatory and punitive damages. “Her complaint alleged that LVHC and HHC had acted with conscious disregard for known safety standards and measures.” (Retrieved from www.ca9.uscourts.gov on December 5, 2007) The Tailhook Association settled out of court for a sum of $400,000.00.The jury found LVHC and HHC negligent and awarded Coughlin $1.7 million in compensatory damages, punitive damages of $2.62 million against LVHC, and $2.3 million against HHC. HCC and LVHC appeal.
Issue: What showing of malice is sufficient to uphold a punitive damage award under Nevada Statute? What constitutes “malice in fact, expressly or implied”?
Holding: The verdict and judgment in Coughlin’s favor is affirmed.
Summary of the Court’s Reasoning: Under Nevada State Law, punitive damages may be awarded in addition to compensatory damages for the sake of example and by way of punishing the defendant “where it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud or malice, express or implied …”
The court refers to rulings in Granite Constr. Co. v Rhyne, 817 P.2d 711 (Nev. 1991) and Craigo v. Circus-Circus Enterprises, Inc., 785 P.2d 22 (Nev. 1990). In the former case the court held that the “facts show that Granite consciously and deliberately disregarded known safety procedures, safety procedures that they had expressly agreed...