SW Legal studies in Business

Restaurant Has Duty to Provide Reasonable Assistance to Choking Patron
Description Nevada high court affirmed the dismissal of suit brought by the heirs of a man who died when he passed out with food caught in his airway. The restaurant personnel had an obligation to provide reasonable assistance, such as calling for an ambulance, but had no obligation to attempt the Heimlich maneuver or take other steps that may have saved his life.
Topic Torts
Key Words Affirmative Duty of Care; Duty to Assist; Wrongful Death
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Sturms (who was later found to have a blood alcohol of 0.32 percent) was eating dinner at the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. During the meal, he vomited, slumped over in his chair, and closed his eyes. Security personnel came and checked his pulse, which they found to be "strong" but fading. The paramedics were called; while they were on their way, the security personnel began CPR procedures, but did not attempt mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The paramedics took over, took him to the hospital, where he was declared dead. An autopsy showed that he died from food that was lodged in his airway. His wife sued the hotel for negligence for failure to take affirmative steps to try to save his life, such as perform the Heimlich maneuver. The trial court dismissed the suit. Plaintiff appealed.
Decision Affirmed. Under the common law, strangers are generally under no duty to aid those in peril. If there is a special relationship between parties, such as between a teacher and a student, then there is an affirmative duty to aid those in peril. The employees of the restaurant were under a legal duty to come to the aid of their patron. The standard is one of reasonable care under the circumstances, which is usually a matter of fact for a jury to decide, but here it was clear that the restaurant met its duty of care when its employees examined Sturms, assessed his condition, attempted some help, and called for assistance. The employees had no duty to attempt to administer the Heimlich maneuver or use mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Citation Lee v. GNLV Corp., - P.3d - (2001 WL 476921, Sup, Ct., Nev., 2001)

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