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Who is responsible when a norovirus breaks out at a Las Vegas hotel

Posted by Neil Shouse | Aug 08, 2018 | 0 Comments

Las Vegas hotels may be liable when their patrons get sickened from a norovirus outbreak (a.k.a. stomach flu). If the victims can show that the hotel's violation of Nevada negligence laws caused or worsened the outbreak, the victims may be able to recover compensatory damages to pay for all their:

  • medical bills to treat the virus,
  • lost wages while they were too sick to work, and/or
  • pain and suffering

And if the hotel staff was particularly reckless, the court may even award punitive damages, which can be much higher than compensatory damages.

How norovirus spreads in Las Vegas hotels

Las Vegas hotels can be hotbeds for the transmission of norovirus, an extremely contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea.[1] Three ways Las Vegas hotel patrons contract norovirus include:

  1. Consuming food or drinks contaminated with norovirus in a hotel restaurant or through room service;
  2. Touching contaminated surfaces -- such as escalator rails, elevator buttons, door handles, and public bathroom fixtures -- and then putting your unwashed hands in your mouth; and
  3. Having direct contact with someone who has norovirus, which may happen inadvertently in crowded hotel lobbies and nightclubs

Recently at the Westgate, hundreds of people reportedly contracted norovirus after dining at the buffet. And back in 2004, approximately 250 people developed norovirus at the Flamingo.[2]

Hotel liability for norovirus outbreaks

Under Nevada premises liability laws, hotels owe its patrons the highest standard of care. This means that hotels must actively search for foreseeable hazards and quickly address and protect against them.[3] This is partly why businesses are required to conduct regular inspections and follow safety codes.

Considering that norovirus infects millions of people every year, it is foreseeable that occasionally people with norovirus will enter hotel grounds. As soon as the hotel learns that one of its patrons has fallen ill, it is "on notice" that there may be an outbreak. Depending on the situation, the hotel may then be required to:

  • conduct a full disinfectant sweep of all common areas and the sick patron's hotel room,
  • dispose of any food or drinks that may be infected,
  • prohibit any infected employees from coming into work until they are well,
  • contact the appropriate authority -- such as the Southern Nevada Health District -- to help investigate and mitigate the outbreak, and/or
  • temporarily close the entire facility

If a hotel fails to take reasonable precautionary and corrective measures, then norovirus victims may have a viable legal argument that the hotel was negligent.

Proving a premises liability claim in Nevada

Hotel patrons who contract norovirus at a Las Vegas hotel may be able to bring a negligence lawsuit against the hotel under the Nevada theory of premises liability. If the case goes to trial, the victim ("plaintiff") would carry the burden to prove the following elements:

  1. The defendant is the owner of the premises or is in control of the premises where the accident took place (the hotel);
  2. The plaintiff was on the premises at the defendant's consent (the plaintiff was a hotel patron);
  3. A dangerous condition exists on the premises (norovirus);
  4. Defendant caused, knew of, or should have known of the alleged dangerous condition (the hotel had notice that norovirus may be on the premises); and
  5. The dangerous condition caused the plaintiff to suffer injury and/or other damages (the hotel's breach of reasonable care towards the plaintiff caused the norovirus to spread).[4]

Plaintiffs have the burden to prove negligence "by a preponderance of the evidence."[5] In other words, that it is more likely than not that the defendant's breach of duty caused the plaintiffs' injury.

Since there are usually several victims of a norovirus outbreak, they may want to consider banding together and suing the hotel in a Nevada "class action" lawsuit. This could simplify the process and speed up settlement talks.

Legal References:

  1. Norovirus, CDC.
  2. Bryan Callahan, Bryce Riley , UPDATE: 300 respond to survey after apparent norovirus outbreak at Westgate, Channel 13 Action News (July 9, 2018).
  3. See FGA, Inc. v. Giglio, 128 Nev. 271,  278 P.3d 490 (2012).
  4. See Rolain v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42373 (2013).
  5. See, e.g., Deiss v. Southern Pac. Co., 53 P.2d 332, 56 Nev. 169 (1936).

About the Author

Neil Shouse

Southern California DUI Defense attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT).

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