TortsProf Blog

Editor: Christopher J. Robinette
Widener Commonwealth Law School

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

New Twist on Vicarious Liability: Las Vegas Hardrock Owners Sued for Death of CEO's Girlfriend

Matthew Heller at On Point Legal News reports on a new twist on an employer's vicarious liability for its employee's torts:

Taking employment law into uncharted waters, a $645 million lawsuit alleges the operator of the Hard Rock resort in Las Vegas is liable for the death of its former CEO's girlfriend because it consented to his “hedonistic lifestyle.”

Michelle Hatchel, 23, died of a drug overdose Aug. 29, 2007 while staying at a Las Vegas condominium with Ed Scheetz, who was then the chief executive officer of Morgans Hotel Group(NASDAQ: MHG). Members of Hatchel's family filed a wrongful-death suit last week that names both Scheetz and Morgans as defendants.

According to the complaint, Scheetz flew Hatchel to Las Vegas from New York on Morgans' private jet for a weekend of cocaine and sex. She was killed, it says, “as a proximate result of the Defendants' ... wrongful and/or negligent acts or omissions” in the three-bedroom penthouse suite leased by Morgans.

An autopsy report attributed Hatchel's death to “acute, multiple drug intoxication (oxycodone, cocaine).” Police allegedly found more than seven grams of cocaine and a prescription bottle in Scheetz's name for oxycodone, an opiate painkiller, in the condo.

Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, an employer is vicariously liable for an employee’s torts committed within the scope of employment. The plaintiffs suing Morgans have given a novel twist to that theory by arguing that Scheetz's behavior mirrored the raunchy “image” of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.


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