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.