The first lawsuit following the mass shooting in Las Vegas was filed on October 10, 2017, less than two weeks after the tragedy. A survivor of the shooting, Ms. Paige Gasper, sued the owners of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, the hotel itself, the owner of the festival venue, the concert promoter, the shooter’s estate, the gun manufacturers and dozens of others asserting that they all bear some responsibility for the massacre. Gasper is suing for personal injuries and is alleging negligence by the many defendants. Undoubtedly, many personal injury lawsuits have been filed since October 10 and many more are still to be filed.
Although Ms. Gasper’s case is not filed in South Carolina, here are a few things we can learn about South Carolina personal injury law from Gasper’s case.
The survivors and the families of those killed have suffered catastrophic losses. According to her lawsuit, Gasper was shot under her right arm. She was incapacitated by the bullet that cut through breast tissue, shattered her ribs and lacerated her liver before exiting her body.
Like other people who suffer personal injuries as a result of another party’s conduct, Gasper is entitled to legal compensation from each and every person or business that is responsible, even in part, for her injuries. This is true in South Carolina too. Under Nevada law, Gasper is seeking recompense for the following damages:
- Bodily injury
- Mental injury
- Past, present and future medical expenses
- Past and future pain and suffering
- Past and future severe emotional distress
- Past, current and anticipated future loss of income
These categories of damages are also recoverable in South Carolina.
Often Injuries Have Many Causes and Many Potential Defendants.
As in most states, in order to prove negligence and win a personal injury lawsuit in South Carolina, a victim must prove four elements:
- Breach of that duty by the defendant or defendants;
- Causation; and
This is similarly true in Nevada. In Gasper’s case, she sued MGM Resorts International (“MGM”), the Delaware corporation that owns the Mandalay Bay Hotel. She also sued the hotel itself which is organized as a Nevada corporation. As to both MGM and the Mandalay Bay Hotel, Ms. Gasper claims that the duty they owed to her was “duty of reasonable care in the protection and safeguarding of persons on the Mandalay Bay premises.” That is the general duty of care that is owed by all businesses and persons.
Gasper claims that MGM and the Mandalay Bay Hotel breached their duty of reasonable care by “failing to maintain the Mandalay Bay premises in a reasonably safe condition” by:
- Failing to properly watch people coming and going from the hotel;
- Failing to monitor the hotel premises with closed-circuit television;
- Failing to timely respond or otherwise act upon the shooting of Mandalay Bay Security Officer Jesus Campos, who had gone to the 32nd floor to check on an alert coming from another guest;
- Failing to notice or take action against the delivery of guns and/or ammunition to the shooter’s hotel room;
- Failing to notice or take action against the shooter’s installation of surveillance devices in the hallway outside his hotel room;
- Failing to adequately prevent or timely discover the shooters’ opening of his hotel room windows; and
- Failing to adequately train and supervise employees on the reporting and discovery of suspicious individuals and/or person and/or activity.
Ms. Gasper further claims that MGM and the Mandalay Bay Hotel knew that it was “reasonably foreseeable that a breach of their duties to keep the hotel reasonably safe might “result in catastrophic injury perpetrated by a gun-toting guest with an extreme intention to harm others, including concert-goers.”
As for the concert, it was promoted and owned by Live Nation Entertainment, Inc. (“Live Nation”).
Gasper argues that Live Nation also had some responsibility for her injuries. As with MGM and the Mandalay Bay Hotel, she claims that Live Nation had a duty to keep the concert safe. In the case of Live Nation, Gasper claims it breached its duty of care by
- Failing to design, build and mark adequate exits in case of emergency; and
- Failing to properly train and supervise employees in an appropriate plan of action in case of an emergency.
Whether Gasper will succeed in her cases against MGM, the Mandalay Bay Hotel and against Live Nation is still to be seen. If the case were tried under South Carolina law, the case would turn on whether the shooting was foreseeable.
Comparing South Carolina Personal Injury Case Law
Personal injury law is complicated and nuanced. Every state has slightly different laws, and cases can turn on what might seem minor facts and details. A South Carolina case from 2011 provides an interesting comparison.
Bass v. Gopal, Inc., 716 SE 2d 910 (S.C. 2011) involved a shooting at a Super 8 Motel. Super 8 Motels are exterior corridor-style motels. In 1999, the plaintiff Gerald Bass was a guest at the motel. At approximately 10:00 p.m. one night, a man knocked on the door. Bass looked through the peephole but did not see anyone. He did not open the door. A second knock came and now he saw a man but, again, did not open the door. After a third knock, he did open the door and the man who had knocked demanded money from Bass. When Bass refused, the man shot Bass in the leg.
Bass sought medical care and eventually sued the motel for negligence.
Duty of South Carolina Businesses to Take Reasonable Actions to Protect Against Foreseeable Risks
In resolving the case, the South Carolina Supreme Court examined the elements on negligence listed above.
In reference to the first element (duty) the Supreme Court stated that the motel had a duty to protect Bass. Indeed, all business owners have a duty to protect their guests. According to the court, the extent of a business owner’s duty to protect guests depends on whether the innkeeper/business knew or had reason to know of a probability of harm. From an analysis of case law, the court then specifically held that a business owner has a duty to take reasonable actions to protect guests against foreseeable risks of physical harm.
Breach of Duty – Balancing Test
The second element of negligence is breach of duty. In terms of what actions or non-actions constitute a breach of the duty to keep guests safe, the court adopted a “balancing test” where, if a crime/harm/risk is foreseeable, then the actions that must be taken depend on what security measures are economically feasible.
In his case, Bass argued that the Super 8 motel was in a high-crime area. As such, the risk of crime was foreseeable. Bass further argued that, while the motel had sufficient lighting and industry standard locks on the doors, the motel should have installed closed-circuit televisions thereby allowing motel guards and personnel to surveil the motel for suspicious persons and activity.
At the trial level, Bass lost on paper motions prior to trial. Bass could not provide any evidence of prior attempted robberies and shooting at this Super 8 Motel. The trial court held that it was not enough to say the neighborhood was “high-crime” and not enough to offer crime statistics for Super 8 Motels around the country. The Supreme Court affirmed and upheld dismissal of Bass’ case.
Applying the Bass holding to the Mandalay Bay Hotel shooting, it is likely that that case will also turn on knowledge and foreseeability. Given the sheer number of guns and given the extensive security and surveillance at the Mandalay Bay Hotel, it is possible that the hotel had enough information to impute knowledge about the guns. If true, then the risk of harm may have been foreseeable and, the hotel may have had a duty to take actions to prevent the harm.
Call David R. Price, Jr., P.A. – Your Greenville Personal Injury Attorney
If you have been injured because of the negligence of some third party, contact the personal injury attorneys at David R. Price, Jr., P.A. in Greenville, South Carolina. David Price has been helping South Carolina citizens obtain monetary compensation for personal injuries since 2006. Call David Price today for a free consultation and help with your claim.