Strategies, Challenges, and Answers

#TBT Nevada’s Guest Statute Declared Unconstitutional

the girl waiting the car with cardboardOn Social Media, people like to celebrate “Throw Back Thursday”.  On Thursdays, with a reference to hashtag #TBT, people post old photos of themselves, their families and their cities.  In that tradition, this post qualifies as a legal “Throw Back Thursday” on the topic of Nevada’s Guest Statute.

Back in 1975, Nevada ’s Guest Statute prevented any person who was a non-paying guest passenger from suing the driver of the car for negligence.  NRS 41.180. 

Mr. Laakonen was just such a guest passenger when the car in which he was a riding collided with a tractor-trailer.  He sued the car’s driver for negligence.  However, Nevada’s Guest Statute prevented him from pursuing the suit.

Mr. Laakonen took the offensive.  He filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment with the trial court asking the court to declare the Guest Statute unconstitutional.  Others had tried and failed to get the statute thrown out.  Kuser v. Barengo, 70 Nev. 66, 254 P.2d 447 (1953).  The trial court followed precedent and would not strike down the law.

Mr. Laakonen had to know that his position was not a guaranteed winner.  Nevertheless, he decided to file a Writ to the Nevada Supreme Court, asking it to find that the statute was unconstitutional.

However, the writing on the wall appeared favorable to Mr. Laakonen.  In Brown v. Merlo, 106 Cal.Rptr. 388, 506 P.2d 212 (1973) the California Supreme Court had recently found California’s Auto Guest Statute was unconstitutional.  But even more promising was the fact that the Nevada Supreme Court had found that California’s airplane Guest Statute in violation of both the California and the United States Constitutions.  Lightenburger v. Gordon, 89 Nev. 226, 510 P.2d 865 (1973).

Ultimately, in the case of Laakonen v. District Court, 91 Nev. 506, 538 P.2d 574 (1975) the Nevada Supreme Court found that the Nevada Guest Statute, which was similar to California’s, was unconstitutional.  It violated a passenger’s equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution, Amendment 14 and the Nevada Constitution, art. 4, § 21. 

In honor of #TBT, we’ll post this on Thursday July 31, 2014, exactly 39 years after the court published the Laakonen decision (on a Thursday no less).

If you have a question about Nevada law, please contact Mike Mills at Mills & Associates 702-240-6060×114 to discuss your questions.

About Michael Mills

Mr. Mills practices in the area of civil litigation and appeals, with particular experience in matters involving trucking liability, insurance defense, insurance coverage, premises liability, products liability and defense of personal injury. Mr. Mills is a member of the Trucking Insurance Defense Association, the Defense Research Institute Trucking Committee and the Nevada Motor Transport Association. Mr. Mills is licensed to practice before the Nevada Supreme Court and the Utah Supreme Court. He is also licensed to appear before the United States Supreme Court, the U.S. District Courts for the Districts of Nevada and Utah, as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Mr. Mills has created 3 Blogs for the benefit of the insurance industry. He serves as editor and publisher of the Nevada Insurance Law Blog, the Nevada Coverage and Bad Faith Blog and the Nevada Trucking Law Blog.

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