The case of Lizardo v. Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino was pending in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia. Plaintiff, Daniela Lizardo filed a Complaint in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas asserting causes of action for negligence/recklessness, and vicarious liability against Harrah’s, co-defendant JHL International Corporation and co-defendant Richard Williams for allegedly causing her to be injured in a courtesy van on or about May 19, 2018. An Amended Complaint was subsequently filed naming LOK Hospitality Associates Inc. as a defendant. The Complaint alleged that Plaintiff was a passenger on courtesy van driven and operated by co-defendant Richard Williams when the courtesy van was involved in a motor vehicle accident on May 19, 2018 at Penn Square and South Broad Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, resulting in personal injuries. Harrah’s is the owner and operator of the casino and racetrack located at 777 Harrah’s Boulevard, Chester, PA 19013.
After a five day trial, the 12-member jury returned a defense verdict after deliberating for less than one hour. Specifically, the jury determined that Defendant, Harrah’s Casino was not negligent in selecting and/or retaining Lok and/or Richard Williams to operate the shuttle, and second, Harrah’s Casino’s conduct was not a factual cause of harm to Plaintiff, Daniela Lizardo.
By way of background, Plaintiff testified that she was a part of a family trip arranged by her daughter, on May 19, 2018, and they ultimately arrived at Harrah’s casino that afternoon between 4:30 – 5:00pm. After gambling at the Harrah’s casino, the courtesy van, according to the plaintiff, was supposed to take plaintiff and several family members from Harrah’s casino to a location in Philadelphia where they would separately take a taxis to go to their homes. Plaintiff further testified that the driver of the courtesy van, co-defendant Richard Williams was driving “fast and violent” through a lighted intersection in Philadelphia and was involved in a car accident. No written police report was made, and there was no contact between the van and any other vehicles.
Discovery revealed that Harrah’s had a contractual relationship with a non-party, LOK Hospitality Associates, Inc. (rather than JHL International) for the free shuttle services offered at Harrah’s Philadelphia Casino & Racetrack located at 777 Harrah’s Boulevard, Chester, PA 19013. Subsequently, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint naming LOK Hospitality as a defendant. Plaintiff sought to add civil conspiracy and Fraud claims against Harrah’s in the Amended Complaint which was denied by the Court. At trial, the key legal issues related to whether the courtesy van and the transportation vendor LOK Hospitality had an agency relationship with Harrah’s acting within the scope and course of their employment.
Jury selection began on October 11, 2022. Trial was held before the Honorable Craig Levin. Judge Levin had recently been elected to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas in November, 2021. Prior to serving as a judge, Mr. Levin had a boutique plaintiffs’ practice in Philadelphia specializing in personal injuries, contract disputes, criminal cases, estate issues, and family law matters. Shortly before jury selection, plaintiff counsel disclosed that they had settled with JHL Corporation for an undisclosed figure. Remaining at the start of trial was Harrah’s and Richard Williams. At the time of jury selection, there was a Default Judgment pending against LOK Hospitality and counsel for LOK had not yet responded to the Amended Complaint or entered an appearance. A jury panel of 12 members was selected in one day. Judge Levin was present for the entirety of jury selection and participated in the voir dire process.
At the pre-trial conference with Judge Levin, Plaintiff indicated that her demand as to all defendants was $750,000. This was an increase from the settlement demand at the pre-trial conference.
Harrah’s liability defenses at trial highlighted the fact that this incident did not occur on the Harrah’s premises, the driver of the courtesy van was not an employee or representative of Harrah’s, and there was no evidence of a business relationship between Harrah’s and the driver Richard Williams. Plaintiff’s Complaint includes fifty-six (56) sub-counts directed to Harrah’s all of which are based in negligence or recklessness. At trial, Plaintiff relied on theories of liability that did not have any bearing on Harrah’s, a premises owner and operator. In addition, the Transportation Services Agreement between LOK Hospitality and Harrah’s made LOK Hospitality contractually responsible for employee retention and employee background checks, passenger safety and complying with applicable codes. Further, LOK Hospitality assumed the Risk of Loss per the Transportation Services Agreement and is contractually responsible for any personal injury claims made by a passenger such as Plaintiff Daniela Lizardo.
Plaintiff’s case in chief relied on the live testimony of Plaintiff Daniela Lizardo and two of the plaintiff’s family members who accompanied the plaintiff in the courtesy van. Plaintiff also showed the videotaped testimony of a liability expert Joseph M. Rubino who offered testimony that Harrah’s had a duty of care to inspect or maintain the Courtesy Van, and that Harrah’s had any duty to provide training and a background check to co-defendant Richard Williams. This duty was, according to Mr. Rubino, premised on United States Department of Transportation (“USDOT”) regulations and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Guidelines. Mr. Rubino also argued that Harrah’s qualified as a Common Carrier subject to a higher standard of care because it transported members of the public. Significantly, the court granted Harrah’s Motion in Limine to limit Mr. Rubino’s trial testimony, find that plaintiff’s liability expert was not qualified to opine of Harrah’s duty of care with respect to the plaintiff and other members of the public.
Plaintiff’s medical expert at trial was Christian Fras, M.D. According to Dr. Fras, an MRI on March 13, 2022, showed a diffuse disc bulge L4/L5 as well as diffuse disc bulge, bilateral facet arthrosis and moderate to severe encroachment of the spinal canal at L5/S1. These conditions, according to Dr. Fras, will require decompression surgery. Dr. Fras opined that further treatment is indicated to include EMG of the lower legs, left hip x-ray, and potentially total left hip replacement with appropriate rehabilitation. Dr. Fras’ report estimates this further treatment to exceed $100,000. Note, less than a week before jury selection was scheduled to begin, Plaintiff Counsel produced a portion of medical records which indicated that Plaintiff Daniela Lizardo was scheduled for surgery shortly after trial. The Court did not allow the plaintiff to offer any testimony regarding a scheduled surgery due to the late disclosure and prejudice to defendants. At trial, plaintiff did testify that as a result of incident she required medical treatment for a labral tear of left hip, spondylosis of lumbosacral region, intervertebral disc displacement of the lumbosacral region with central canal impingement at L4-L5 and L5-S1, and pain in left hip with decreased range of motion.
Defense expert doctors opined that the plaintiff Daniela Lizardo has recovered completed from all injuries potentially sustained as a result of the incident and that any ongoing symptoms is due to pre-existing degenerative conditions to her thoracic spine, lumbar spine and both hips. Plaintiff did not require any medical treatment which is in any way related to the subject motor vehicle incident.
Andy Lok was deposed and testified at trial that Lok Hospitality had a contract with Harrah’s Casino to provide the shuttle services and LOK Hospitality had a contract with JHL International Corporation to provide the vehicles for the shuttle serves. Mr. Lok also stated that Richard Williams was an employee of Lok Hospitality Associates from March 18, 2018, through June 11, 2018. Mr. Lok further testified that he provided Harrah’s Casino with the Certificate of Insurance for JHL International Corporation before providing any services for Harrah’s Casino and that Harrah’s Casino did not take any issue with the use of JHL International Corporation’s vehicle. JHL Corporation leased the vehicle to LOK Hospitality but JHL Corporation wasn’t involved in the actual shuttle services. LOK Hospitality actually was retained by defense counsel after jury selection but before the first scheduled day of trial, and Andy LOK offered testimony at trial.
DAMIAN S. JACKSON is a partner at the law firm of Reilly McDevitt & Henrich. He is an experienced lawyer in Philadelphia, who specializes in the defense of complex litigation cases. Since 1996, he has served as lead counsel for over 100 criminal and civil jury trials in both state and federal courts.
Mr. Jackson earned his Juris Doctorate from Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Delaware. He began his legal career as an Assistant District Attorney in Bronx, New York, where he tried numerous jury trials. After several years in the Bronx, he became a Special Assistant United States Attorney in the U.S. Virgin Islands managing a major narcotics-related criminal prosecution team in both the Federal and territorial courts. After successfully dismantling numerous drug trafficking organizations and leading several multi-jurisdictional investigations, Mr. Jackson returned to New York and prosecuted insurance fraud cases for the State of New York, under Eliot Spitzer former New York Attorney General.
Relocating to Philadelphia was an organic transition and he focused his practice on personal injury defense litigation. He has represented individuals, companies, and not-for-profit organizations in cases ranges from automobile accidents to toxic-tort related issues.
Mr. Jackson is admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court, several U.S. District Courts, and State Courts in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. He is a member of the American, Pennsylvania, and New York State Bar Associations; the Philadelphia Bar; and the Barrister’s Association.
Mr. Jackson is the immediate past Polemarch of the Philadelphia Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc, serves on the advisory Board for the Barrister’s Association, and a member of the Philly Stroker’s Golf Group.
Previously, Mr. Jackson lectured at Widener University School of Law’s Intensive Trial Advocacy Program. He served as a contributing editor to Law Rules Publishing’s, “2002 Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure” a study guide for law students. In 2002, the Congressional Black Caucus of the U.S. Congress selected Mr. Jackson for the “Unsung Hero”award for helping to establish a successful mentoring program for high school boys in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He routinely lectures at Regional CLE programs on various issues concerning litigation. He has been named one Pennsylvania top 10% of all lawyers for the last 6 years. He was recently named one of Philadelphia’s Top Influencers by the Philadelphia Tribune.