Last week a California jury awarded Bryan Stow, a Giant's fan, $18 million for injuries--including brain damage--he suffered when two Dodgers' fans beat him outside of Dodger Stadium following a game. As a part of the verdict, the jury found the Dodgers organization 25% at fault and each attacker 37.5% at fault. They did not find Stow at fault and did not find former Dodger owner Frank McCourt personally liable for the incident. Though the Dodgers were found 25% at fault, they will likely be responsible for approximately $14 million of the verdict.
Why would the Dodgers be liable at all?
Corporations that invite customers to their facilities owe those customers a duty to provide adequate security on their property. Corporations do not have to absolutely guarantee a customer's safety from harm caused by another, but need to at least take reasonable precautions and reasonably attempt to prevent the kinds of attacks that occurred here. The question is: did the company use reasonable and ordinary care to help prevent foreseeable dangers on its property? It's not uncommon, for example, for shopping malls or other stores with inadequate security and lighting to get sued when a shopper gets attacked and seriously injured by a thief in the parking lot.
A prior history of criminal activity on the corporation's property is often damaging evidence because it shows the corporation had notice and knowledge that a security problem existed,yet decided not to do anything about it. Certainly, the jury in this case must have decided that the Dodgers, currently valued at $2 billion, could have invested a little more of its money to protect the fans attending its games.
Allowing a jury to assess fault against a corporation with inadequate security also ensures that the customer will get some compensation for the injuries he has suffered. Most of the time, the person who harmed the customer is someone who cannot be found, will not be covered by insurance for criminal acts or is in jail, rendering any kind of recovery from the attacker extremely difficult if not impossible. For example, Stow will never see a penny from the men who attacked him, as they are currently serving sentences in prison.
It's important to note that since the Stow beating, the Dodgers have in fact increased security measures at its ballpark. Lawsuits like these give corporations a legitimate incentive to make sure their security is up to speed.
Why isn't Frank McCourt personally liable?
This gets a little complicated, but the important thing to know to impress your friends at cocktail parties is owners of corporations will rarely be personally financially responsible for the negligent action of the corporation, as the two are usually considered separate entities for legal purposes.
What's the importance of the percentages of fault?
In Arizona, the defendants are only responsible to pay their percentage of fault out of the total verdict. So, if this case were to be tried in Arizona, the Dodgers would only be responsible for 25% of the total $18 million, or $4.5 million. Likewise, if the plaintiff is found to be partially responsible for his own injuries, his percentage of fault will be subtracted from the total verdict.
Here, Stow was not found at fault, so there is no deduction due to any fault on the plaintiff's part. (However, it would not have been too surprising if the jury assessed some fault against Stow here, as his BAC was approximately .18 at the time of the attack--he had had a bit to drink and might have played some role in instigating the fight).
Ok. So why do the Dodgers have to fork up $14 million if they are only 25% at fault?
Again, this get's complicated, but the short answer is because this case was in California, not Arizona. In California, plaintiffs can collect 100% of all economic damages (i.e. damages designated to past and future medical care, lost wages, things you can put a solid number on) against any defendant found to be any percentage of fault. So, even though the Dodgers were only found to be 25% responsible for what happened, California law allows Stow to collect 100% of his economic damages against the Dodgers. (Exception: had the jury assessed any fault against Stow, his percentage of fault would have been subtracted from the total economic damages portion of his verdict).
This California law is more plaintiff friendly than the law in Arizona, and goes along the same lines of helping ensure the plaintiff will at least get his economic damages taken care of by the negligent defendant with the largest pockets.
Here, it appears the jury awarded Stow approximately $14 million in economic damages and $4 million in non-economic damages (i.e. pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, things that are harder to put an absolute monetary value on).
Have other questions about this case? Feel free to comment and we will do our best to answer them!