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Nutter wins favorable jury verdict for client in major fire trial

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May 2011

After an intense four-week trial in April, a jury in the Federal District Court found in favor of Nutter’s client in claims arising from a luxury hotel fire in Europe in 2004 which caused considerable damage to the hotel and took the lives of three people.

The fire occurred while the client was hosting a group of customers on an incentive trip abroad and on the night in question the group was staying at the hotel. The hotel and its foreign insurer brought suit against the company, asserting that a cigarette discarded carelessly by a member of the group had caused the fire, and claiming that the company was liable for the resulting damage under a number of foreign law claims, including negligence and “strict liability” statutes. The strict liability claims were later dismissed, but a negligence claim went to trial. That claim was based on the theory that the client had provided too much alcohol to the guest and negligently increased the risk of her causing harm and contributed to her causing the fire.

The jury found that the client was not negligent. In defending the case the Nutter team, led by litigation partners Stephen Brake and Sarah Kelly, also proved that the hotel itself was the cause of the harm due to its own fire protection practices, which encompassed both a lack of physical fire safeguards and a lack of training for the staff. The defense verdict was the culmination of some four years of effort by many Nutter lawyers and staff in an intensely, bitterly fought case.

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