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Federal Jury Orders Las Vegas Hilton to Pay Tailhook Figure $1.7 Million

October 29, 1994|From Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — A federal jury found Friday that the Las Vegas Hilton failed to provide adequate security at the 1991 Tailhook convention, and ordered the hotel chain to pay whistle-blower Paula Coughlin $1.7 million.

Coughlin held her attorney's hand as the verdict was read. Her mother, sitting in the front row of the courtroom, wept.

The jury determined that the hotel and the Hilton corporation acted with malice, so the panel will return Monday to deliberate punitive damages.

In closing arguments Thursday, attorney Dennis Schoville contended that his client should receive $5 million to $10 million in damages.

"We have lost the best of the best," Schoville said of Coughlin, a former Navy lieutenant and helicopter pilot who was once described as a "bright star" in a fitness report.

Coughlin resigned from the Navy in February, citing pressure resulting from an alleged attack by her peers at the infamous 1991 convention of military aviators.

Coughlin, 32, sued Hilton Hotel Corp. and the Las Vegas Hilton, site of the convention, claiming the resort failed to provide proper security. She also sued the San Diego-based Tailhook Assn., but settled out of court with that organization just days before the Hilton trial started.

More than 80 women claim they were sexually assaulted by drunken aviators at the convention, and a dozen have filed suit in state and federal court here. Coughlin's case is the most high-profile and was the first to go to trial.

Coughlin and other women claim they were groped and fondled by a gantlet of aviators on Sept. 7, the final night of the 1991 convention.

Hilton attorney Eugene Wait did not deny that Coughlin was attacked, but said that, based on the 19 years of Tailhook conventions at the hotel, attacks were not foreseeable.

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