Trial begins in civil suit filed against Dodgers over fan assault
Giants fan Bryan Stow left brain damaged from 2011 attack
The Los Angeles Dodgers had insufficient security when San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow was severely beaten in a Dodger Stadium parking lot after the 2011 opening day game between the California rivals, an attorney told jurors Thursday in opening statements of the trial of a lawsuit seeking damages from the team and former owner Frank McCourt.
The defence countered that there was more security than at any other Dodgers opening day and that responsibility for the injuries lay with the two men who pleaded guilty to the attack and with Stow himself for being intoxicated and exchanging taunts with the assailants.
Stow's attorney, Tom Girardi, outlined his case in a packed courtroom, but his brain-damaged client was not present.
Stow, 45, had observed jury selection from a wheelchair, but Girardi said outside court that it had been too much for the former paramedic from Northern California. He requires constant care, which his lawyers say could cost $50 million US over his lifetime.
The first plaintiff's witness was Elizabeth Ann Stow, the injured man's mother who said she and her husband now spend all of their time caring for their son who returned home after years in hospitals and rehab. She described the ordeal of seeing him in a coma, watching his many treatments and finally hearing him utter his first sound.
"It was a sob," she said.
With time, she said he began to take steps with a walker but he remains severely impaired. She said her son is never left alone even when he sleeps.
Another witness, neurosurgeon Dr. Gabriel Zada, was the first to operate on Stow when he arrived at the hospital. He said Stow's traumatic brain injury was so severe that doctors feared he would not recover. He said others with such injuries often have remained in comas or a vegetative state.
"We were trying to keep him alive," he said.
Girardi said that the Dodgers cut costs by using more non-uniformed off-duty police officers than uniformed officers, who cost more. "The deterrent effect of having an officer in blue means a lot to everybody," he said.
Girardi described a rowdy atmosphere at the game, with a crowd of 56,000 and tempers running high because of the teams' fierce rivalry.
"There was a lot of hostility," he said. "It's different than going to a night at the symphony at the Hollywood Bowl."
During the game, one of Stow's eventual assailants was throwing food and soda at people sitting near him in the stands, Girardi said. "All of the time there was this yelling and screaming and throwing stuff at these nice people there was no security," he said.
Attorney Dana Fox, representing the Dodgers and McCourt, said a capacity crowd was expected and the Dodgers took it seriously.
Sides spar over Stow's blood-alcohol level
"The evidence is going to show in this case Mr. Stow was gravely injured because of a testosterone- and alcohol-fueled flash-fire fight in the parking lot," Fox said. "Some of this was caused by Mr. Stow, who consumed a lot of alcohol. He drank liquor and beer before the game and beer during the game."
When Stow arrived at the hospital, his blood-alcohol level was 0.149 per cent, and forensics experts will show that at the time of the fight his level was between 0.16 per cent and 0.20 per cent, Fox said. The legal limit for driving is 0.08 per cent.
Girardi earlier told jurors that the Stow's blood-alcohol level as it related to the standard for drunken driving was irrelevant because Stow and his friends had taken a taxi to the stadium and afterward were heading to the street to take another taxi.
Fox, however, contended that "it is not legal to be drunk in public when you can't care for yourself and others."
The defence attorney said the Dodgers had assembled "the largest security force ever for an opening day in their entire history," including 437 officers and security guards, Fox said. The sworn officers included police and California Highway Patrol, and the FBI was also present because an opening day game is considered a potential target for a terrorist threat, he said.
The Los Angeles Police Department and FBI had command posts at the stadium, and the FBI also had cameras, Fox said.
The Dodgers' security cost for that day was $66,604 out of a season-long budget of $2.185 million, he said.
The team's attorney told the jury the only issue was whether the Dodgers acted reasonably or were negligent.
While Louie Sanchez and Marvin Norwood acted criminally and despicably in attacking Stow, the Dodgers were not responsible for their actions, Fox said.
"If they [plaintiffs] do not prove the Dodgers were a substantial factor in causing the injuries, they lose. The standard in this case is whether my clients acted reasonably," he said.
Witnesses at a preliminary hearing testified that security guards were not present in the parking lot where Stow was beaten and kicked by Sanchez and Norwood. The pair wore Dodgers gear, and Stow wore a Giants shirt.
Sanchez pleaded guilty to one count of mayhem and was sentenced to eight years in prison. Norwood pleaded guilty to one count of assault likely to produce great bodily injury and was sentenced to four years. Both still face unrelated federal firearms charges.