Monday, May 30, 2011

Down Go the Dodgers: the Stow Suit Deepens the Debacle

The legal web cast over the storied Los Angeles Dodgers franchise just keeps getting more tangled. The family of injured San Francisco Giants fan, Bryan Stow, filed a nine-count Complaint against the Dodgers, its various holdings, and owner Frank McCourt. Stow was severely beaten in the parking lot following the opening day game between the Dodgers and Giants and remains in a coma in a San Francisco hospital. The much publicized incident has occasioned harsh criticisms on Dodgers management, but has also inspired generous charitable contributions from many parties, including much maligned former Giant, Barry Bonds. The Complaint includes various counts ranging from negligence, infliction of emotional distress, loss of consortium, and assault and battery. The full Complaint can be read here.

The allegations paint a picture of gross mismanagement of funds and resources attributable to the McCourts. The public picture already painted by the much publicized divorce proceedings between McCourt and his wife, Jamie, and their insistence on maintaining their posh lifestyle despite financial misfortune would seem to support the allegations. The complaint focuses on a myriad of inadequate security measures in place as a result of McCourt’s lapses in judgment and spending. Dodger stadium was built in 1962, and the Stows partially attribute the incident to inadequate and antiquated parking lot lighting where the beating occurred. A further contributing factor cited is the “half-off” alcohol promotion for day games at Dodgers Stadium. The most obvious danger, however, is the vastly insufficient quantity and quality of security personnel. McCourt subsequently acknowledged the shortcomings in security (including a drop in the number of uniformed police utilized and no chief of security) and took remedial measures, but that is of little consequence to Stow and his family.

Following, but presumably unrelated to, this heinous incident, Major League Baseball assumed control of the Dodgers. By all counts, MLB was compelled to this move by an apparent lack of financial management. The Commissioner can assume control of teams under his broad power to act in the best interest of baseball and clearly it is his prerogative to prevent further embarrassment to a once proud franchise and ensure the safety of patrons. Mike discussed the full legal ramifications of the takeover in his Sports Illustrated column last month.

Generally, spectators assume the risks associated with attending a live sporting event (e.g. foul balls), but that does not preclude an owner’s liability when certain actions or omissions exceed the spectator’s reasonable expectations, like assault and battery. Fortunately for the Dodgers Defendants, the general rule is that premises owners are not liable in tort for the intervening criminal acts of third-parties. However, a question for consideration that may allow the Plaintiffs here to survive dispositive motions are what level of security was provided by the Dodgers to patrons in the parking lots and at the taxi stands prior to the incident, as the same may show that the Dodgers assumed a level of control that removed the organization from claiming shelter from liability for the intervening criminal acts of third-parties. Remember that actions taken by the Dodgers, under MLB control and otherwise, since the incident would likely not be allowed as evidence in a liability action against the Dodgers as the same would be regarded as a post-remedial measure.

It will be interesting to see what, if any, say MLB has with regard to the named Dodgers Defendants as the same are now under some level of control by the League; a control that McCourt has been fighting against. Certainly the filing of this lawsuit is not helping the League’s efforts to reverse the downward spiral the Dodgers organization finds itself in.