A verdict awarding $18 million to a San Francisco Giants fan who was beaten outside Dodger Stadium has settled — for now — one of the ugliest chapters in a longstanding rivalry.
Bryan Stow was wearing a Giants jersey when he was attacked in a stadium parking lot after the 2011 season opener. His injuries left him brain damaged and permanently disabled.
Stow sued the Dodgers and former owner Frank McCourt, claiming they failed to provide adequate security. On Wednesday, a jury ordered the Dodgers to pay Stow about $14 million but cleared McCourt of liability. (The men who beat Stow, Louie Sanchez and Marvin Norwood, are serving eight- and four-year prison terms, respectively, but were not defendants in the lawsuit.)
Here are five things we learned from the verdict:
NOT OVER YET: There’s a fight in a Dodger Stadium parking lot. Fans are injured, and they sue the ballclub. A jury finds the Dodgers negligent.
But this was in 1985, and there’s one more twist: The verdict was overturned on appeal.
In Nobles v. Los Angeles Dodgers Inc., the Court of Appeals of California found that the plaintiffs needed to show not just that security was inadequate, but that more security would have helped.
Quoting an earlier ruling, the court said, “It would be intolerable and grossly unfair to permit a lay jury, after the fact, to determine in any case that security measures were ‘inadequate,’ especially in light of the fact that the decision would always be rendered in a case where the security had in fact proved to be inadequate.”
There are important differences between the cases: The plaintiffs in Nobel were found partially responsible for the fight, and Stow was not. Also, in the more recent case there was testimony that there were no security guards at all in the area where Stow was beaten.
Juror Carlos Munoz said after the verdict that the Dodgers “did have a (security) plan, but somewhere along the line that plan broke. And it needed to be fixed.
“Hopefully we helped to fix it,” he said. “If you’re going to own a stadium, do it right.”
SECURE STADIUMS: The Dodgers added security after the attacks, including undercover officers wearing rival team jerseys. But other clubs said they don’t plan any specific changes because of the verdict.
“Nothing (was) specifically added in response to the Giants fan beating, but we did add a few new security elements after last year’s marathon tragedy,” Red Sox spokeswoman Zineb Curran said Thursday.
The San Francisco Giants say they are making changes “game by game and series by series.”
“Our priority is fan safety,” said Alfonso Felder, the senior vice president for facilities at AT&T Park in San Francisco. “Our goal is to make sure we are always adjusting our policies and procedures and approach to assure fan safety and a fan friendly environment at the ballpark.”
Milwaukee Brewers chief operating officer Rick Schlesinger said it’s not just important to protect fans, but to make them feel safe.
“If there’s a perception in the community is that you do not have a safe venue, it’s going to dramatically affect business,” he said. “So just from a pure ethical obligation to keep people safe, it’s smart business to make sure we have a safe environment.”
Major League Baseball officials declined to comment.
DEEP POCKETS: Sanchez and Norwood were each found to be 37.5 percent responsible for Stow’s injuries, but they are considered judgment-proof, meaning they don’t have the money to pay their share of the damages.
And that’s why the Dodgers are on the hook for the bulk of the verdict even though the ballclub was found to be only 25 percent responsible for Stow’s injuries.
According to Widener Law professor Christopher Robinette, in California and many other states, one deep-pocketed defendant that is found to have any responsibility for damages can be required to pay the whole amount. (In California, this applies to the actual economic damages like lost wages and medical expenses; the team only has to pay 25 percent of the emotional distress share of the judgment, Robinette said.)
“Because the Dodgers were found even a little responsible, they have to pay all of the damages,” he said. “We assume these guys don’t have $3 million dollars, and he’s just not going to collect (from them). It makes more sense for the other defendant to pay than it does for the plaintiff to not recover anything.”
NOT FRANK’S FAULT: Frank McCourt didn’t do much right as owner of the Dodgers, but the jury said he wasn’t to blame for Stow’s beating.
McCourt testified for about an hour during the trial, saying he did not have any personal involvement in security plans. He also said he never cut funding for security. After his testimony, he made a statement outside the courthouse placing the blame on Norwood and Sanchez alone.
“Make no mistake, they’re the parties responsible for this tragic incident,” he said.
McCourt bought the Dodgers for about $430 million in 2004 and took the team into bankruptcy in 2011 after a bitter divorce from his wife, Jamie, that exposed their lavish lifestyle and mismanagement of the ballclub. He sold the Dodgers in 2012 to a group led by basketball Hall of Famer Magic Johnson for a record price of $2 billion.
BOOZE IS NOT TO BLAME: Stow had a blood-alcohol content of .18 percent — twice the legal limit for driving — but that doesn’t make him responsible for the fight.
“A jury’s going to be very receptive to finding the plaintiff at fault for his own harm if he is belligerent,” Robinette said. “Probably, a jury is going to look at general celebration of a game and not conclude that you deserve what you get.”
Defense attorney Dana Fox claimed that Stow, who was wearing a Giants jersey, provoked the fight by yelling and raising his hands up.
“There were three parties responsible — Sanchez, Norwood and, unfortunately, Stow himself,” Fox said. “You don’t get yourself this drunk and then say it’s not your fault.”
But drunkenness does not excuse the Dodgers from the responsibility to provide a safe environment. Under an oft-quoted case from the Gold Rush era, a California court ruled that a man who dug a hole in the sidewalk was liable for the injuries to the drunken man who fell into it.
“A drunken man is as much entitled to a safe street as a sober one,” the court wrote in Robinson v. Pioche, “and much more in need of it.”
Jimmy Golen covers sports and the law for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jgolen.
Associated Press Writers Robert Jablon and Andrew Dalton and AP Sports Writers Genaro Armas and Josh Dubow and contributed to this story.
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