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Nevada Supreme Court upholds 'civil death penalty'

The Nevada Supreme Court has upheld an earlier ruling in Bahena v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., a case in which a Clark County district judge had imposed the ultimate sanction against the company for supposed discovery violations -- prohibiting Goodyear from defending itself. The state Supreme Court's ruling reaffirms this "civil death penalty."

From The Las Vegas Sun/McClatchy:

The Nevada Supreme Court has refused to rehear its decision to uphold a $32.2 million judgment in Clark County against Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. in a single-car accident that killed three people and injured seven others.

The court, in a 6-1 decision written by Justice Mark Gibbons, said it did not overlook any material facts or misapply the law. But it took the court 10 pages to clarify what it meant in its first decision last July in upholding the rulings of District Court Judge Sally Loehrer.

Justice Kristina Pickering dissented and said she would have granted a rehearing.

She said the default judgment in the case rested on the District Court "choosing to believe one side's lawyers over another's with no evidentiary hearing, no cross-examination and a genuine dispute over willfulness, fault, and prejudice."

The court's ruling is here.

We covered the Clark County case and the civil death penalty in an Aug. 4, 2010, Point of Law post, "Civil 'death penalty' leaves no defense."

Business groups, including my employers at the National Association of Manufacturers, had filed an amicus brief (available here) in the case. The brief argued:

The ruling deprived a business of its most fundamental right in the American civil litigation system: the constitutional right to defend oneself in court. When the trial court struck Goodyear's answer, it took away Goodyear's right to defend itself against Plaintiffs' charges. Goodyear was precluded from showing that the tire in question was not defective, that its tire did not cause the accident, that its product was misused or that instructions were not followed. Goodyear was deemed liable. Full stop. No defenses allowed. All that was left for the jury to decide was how much Goodyear would have to pay. The finality of striking a defendant's answer as to liability is the reason the sanction is nicknamed "the civil death penalty" in some courts and the business community throughout the United States.

Clark County is listed in the American Tort Reform Association's 2010-2011 Judicial Hellholes list.

See also Las Vegas Review-Journal, "Court upholds wrongful death verdict against tire company"

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.