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Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department v. Yeghiazarian

Supreme Court of Nevada

November 7, 2013

LAS VEGAS METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT, A Government Entity; and Jared Wicks, An Individual, Appellants,
v.
Elizabeth YEGHIAZARIAN, An Individual; Elizabeth Yeghiazarian, as the Personal Representative of the Estate of Raymond Yeghiazarian; Christina Yeghiazarian; Natalia Yeghiazarian; and Andrew Yeghiazarian, Respondents.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Marquis Aurbach Coffing and Craig R. Anderson, Micah S. Echols, and Chad F. Clement, Las Vegas, for Appellants.

Saggese & Associates, Ltd., and Marc A. Saggese, Las Vegas, for Respondents.

BEFORE GIBBONS, DOUGLAS and SAITTA, JJ.

OPINION

GIBBONS, J.:

In this appeal from a judgment for the plaintiffs in a wrongful death action, we consider whether evidence of the deceased's blood alcohol content (BAC) may be admitted to show his comparative negligence. We conclude that admission of a person's BAC requires additional evidence suggesting intoxication from either a percipient witness or an expert who can testify regarding that person's commensurate level of impairment.

We also consider three other issues: (1) whether the district court abused its discretion by allowing an expert to testify based on an allegedly unreliable report, (2) whether the district court erred in reducing the jury verdict based on the deceased's comparative negligence before imposing NRS 41.035's mandatory cap on an award of damages against a public entity, and (3) whether the district court abused its discretion in awarding attorney fees that included charges for nonattorney staff. Based on our analysis of these issues, we affirm the district court's judgment; however, we vacate in part the award of attorney fees and costs and remand this case to the district court for further analysis of the claims for attorney fees from counsel, paralegals, and office staff pursuant to the factors set forth in Brunzell v. Golden Gate National Bank, 85 Nev. 345, 349, 455 P.2d 31, 33 (1969).

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Raymond Yeghiazarian was traveling westbound on Sahara Avenue and attempted a left turn at a permissive green light in order to proceed southbound on Fort Apache Road. At the same time, appellant Las Vegas Metropolitan

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Police Department (LVMPD) Officer Jared Wicks was driving his patrol vehicle eastbound on Sahara Avenue approaching Fort Apache Road. The speed limit on Sahara was 45 mph, but Officer Wicks was traveling between 58 mph and 74 mph. Officer Wicks did not have his police siren or lights activated. Raymond apparently did not realize how fast Officer Wicks was approaching and entered the intersection without enough time to clear it. Officer Wicks slammed on his brakes, but the two cars collided. As a result of the accident, Raymond suffered multiple internal injuries and trauma to his brain stem. After spending three weeks in a coma, Raymond died. A blood sample drawn from Raymond hours after the crash revealed that he had a BAC of .049 percent. Officer Wicks' blood was not drawn or tested for alcohol or other substances after the crash.

Raymond's wife Elizabeth, individually and as the representative of her husband's estate, as well as her son and two daughters (collectively, the Yeghiazarian family), filed a complaint against LVMPD and Officer Wicks (collectively, LVMPD) alleging negligence resulting in Raymond's death. LVMPD asserted that Raymond's injuries were caused by his own negligence, which was comparatively greater than any negligence of Officer Wicks. Before trial, LVMPD attempted to exclude testimony from the Yeghiazarian family's expert, Dr. John E. Baker, P.E., because his conclusion that Officer Wicks was traveling 74 mph was allegedly based on speculation and generalization. The district court denied the motion, stating that the discrepancies and purported weaknesses in Dr. Baker's report went to the weight of his testimony, not its admissibility. The Yeghiazarian family sought ...


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