By: Meghan Price, Sunday, July 27, 2014
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/brendan-c/
Three years ago on Opening Day, two Los Angeles Dodgers fans brutally beat a San Francisco Giants fan outside of Dodger Stadium.[i]
The attack led to a civil suit in which the jury recently awarded the victim, Bryan Stow, an $18 million verdict in damages.[ii]
The assailants, Louie Sanchez and Marvin Norwood, were sentenced to eight and four years in prison, respectively, and were not the only parties held liable for the life-altering injuries that Bryan Stow sustained.
The jury found the Los Angeles Dodgers organization negligent in the attack. Specifically, the jurors found the Dodgers 25% liable and each attacker 37.5% liable. Frank McCourt, the Dodgers’ owner at the time of the beating, escaped liability.[iii]
At one point during deliberations, the jury was deadlocked. However, the jurors found in favor of Bryan Stow after hearing testimony about the Dodgers’ security that night and the medical care that Stow will require for the rest of his life.[iv]
The verdict indicates the jury’s belief that the Dodgers’ security was inadequate on the night of the attack. One juror stated that the Dodgers did have a security plan, “but somewhere along the line, that plan broke. And it needed to be fixed.”[v]
During the trial, Dodgers’ attorney, Dana Fox, attempted to advance a contributory negligence theory by arguing that Stow’s blood alcohol level was 0.18%. However, the jurors did not agree that the Plaintiff’s blood alcohol level rid the Dodgers of liability.[vi]
Stow’s attorney, Thomas Girardi, rebutted an inference of Stow’s liability, claiming that the only thing the Giants fan did wrong was wear a San Francisco jersey.[vii]
Girardi argued that the Dodgers should have kicked the two attackers out of the stadium before the rivalry rose to the devastating level that it did. Testimony showed that the two attackers were harassing other fans since the second inning.[viii]
Dana Fox argued that the Dodgers have historically increased their security measures for big games like Opening Day. However, the evidence showed that no security guards were in the area where Sanchez and Norwood attacked Stow from behind, and began kicking and beating Stow into a coma.[ix]
Dana Fox reminded the jury, “[m]y client is required to act reasonably, not perfectly.”[x] The jury decided that the Dodgers’ did not act reasonably.
Likelihood of an Appeal
The complete absence of security personnel at the scene of the beating will be a hard fact to overcome if the Dodgers appeal. However, the Dodgers may rely on a 1985 case, Noble v. Los Angeles Dodgers, Inc., a similar tort case in which the verdict against the Dodgers was overturned on appeal.[xi]
In Noble, California’s Second District Court of Appeal ruled that the plaintiff established “abstract negligence,” and that it was unfair for lay jurors to decide that the Dodgers’ security measures were inadequate.[xii] The court noted, “[n]o one can reasonably contend that even a significant increase in police personnel will prevent all crime or any particular crime.”[xiii]
Noble differs from the Stow case because the Plaintiffs in Noble “offered no evidence that there was any reasonable steps which the Dodgers could have taken to prevent [the injuries] or that inaction on the part of the Dodgers in any way caused plaintiffs’ injuries.”[xiv]
Here, however, the complete lack of security in the area appears to prove inaction on the part of the Dodgers, who likely could have prevented some of the injuries sustained. Thus, if the Dodgers file an appeal, it will likely be an uphill climb to reverse this decision.
For now, Stow’s family and counsel are pleased with the verdict, although, sadly, Bryan may be unable to fully appreciate or understand this outcome.[xv]
[i] See Two Admit Guilt in Bryan Stow Attack, Associated Press,http://espn.go.com/los-angeles/mlb/story/_/id/10489372/two-men-admit-guilt-dodger-stadium-attack-bryan-stow (last updated Feb. 20, 2014, 11:08 PM) (discussing assault outside of Dodger Stadium).
[ii] See Robert Jablon and Andrew Dalton, $14M to Beaten Giants Fan Returns Security Focus, Associated Press (July 10, 2014, 10:38 AM), http://bigstory.ap.org/article/14m-beaten-giants-fan-returns-security-focus (reporting verdict in civil suit arising from assault in 2011, which specifically found Dodgers’ negligence liable for $14 million).
[iii] See Martha Neil, Jury Says Dodgers Must Pay $13.9M in Giants Fan’s Beating Case, ABA Journal (July 10, 2014, 10:55 AM), http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/jury_says_dodgers_must_pay_13.9m_in_giant_fans_beating_case/ (noting jury’s findings).
[iv] See id. (discussing details from jury trial).
[v] See Jablon and Dalton, supra note 2 (quoting juror Carlos Munoz).
[vi] See Jimmy Golen, 5 Things Learned From Giants Fan Beating Verdict, Associated Press (July10, 2014, 6:26 PM),http://bigstory.ap.org/article/5-things-learned-giants-fan-beating-verdict (discussing defense’s arguments).
[vii] See Linda Deutsch, Lawsuit Over Beating That Left San Francisco Giants Fan with Brain Damage Goes to Jury, Associated Press (June 26, 2014, 6:39 PM), http://www.usnews.com/news/sports/articles/2014/06/26/lawyers-argue-over-blame-in-giants-fan-beating (noting Plaintiff’s closing statement).
[viii] See Corina Knoll, Couple Testify They Were Intimidated by Bryan Stow’s Attacker, L.A. Times (May 30, 2014, 12:05 PM), http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-couple-testifies-intimidated-bryan-stow-attacker-20140530-story.html (discussing argument and testimony).
[ix] See Matt Bonesteel, Los Angeles Dodgers Found Liable in Parking-lot Beating That Left Fan with Brain Damage, Wash. Post (July 10, 2014), http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/early-lead/wp/2014/07/10/los-angeles-dodgers-found-liable-in-parking-lot-beating-that-left-fan-with-brain-damage/ (discussing background and testimony).
[x] See Shirley Jahad, Bryan Stow Trial: Jury Decides Against Dodgers, Awards $18M in Damages, SCPR.org (July 9, 2014), http://www.scpr.org/news/2014/07/09/45015/bryan-stow-trial-verdict-reached-to-be-announced-w/ (quoting defense attorney’s closing statement).
[xi] See generally Noble v. Los Angeles Dodgers, Inc.,168 Cal. App. 3d 912 (Cal. Ct. App. 1985) (overturning jury verdict for Plaintiff in fan fight at Dodgers’ game). See also Golen, supra note 6 (comparing facts in Stow’s case with facts in Noble).
[xii] See Noble, 168 Cal. App. 3dat 918 (noting reasons why verdict was overturned).
[xiii] See id. (elaborating on “abstract negligence”).
[xiv] See id. at 915 (citing reason Plaintiff’s argument was weak).
[xv] See Neil, supra note 3 (describing reaction to verdict and depth of Stow’s injuries).