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Legal Look: Dodgers actually on hook for Stow verdict

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Eric Macramalla, Sports Legal Analyst
7/10/2014 10:00:58 AM
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A jury has awarded Brian Stow about $18 million for a brutal beating at the hands of Louie Sanchez and Marvin Norwood in the Dodger Stadium parking lot back on opening day in 2011.

On March 31, 2011, Stow and some friends went to a Giants-Dodgers game in L.A. Wearing his Giants jersey, Stow was taunted during the game. While leaving the game, he was savagely beaten into unconsciousness by Norwood and Sanchez. He was placed in a medically induced coma for several weeks and a portion of his skull was removed to relieve pressure on his brain.

Stow, a Santa Cruz paramedic and the father of two young children, was left with permanent brain damage, unable to work again and will require around the clock care for the rest of his life.

The jury found the Dodgers 25 per cent responsible, while Norwood and Sanchez were each found 37.5 per cent responsible. The liability of the Dodgers stems from providing inadequate security at the ballpark.

It's been reported that the verdict means that the Dodgers will pay $4.5 million, with Norwood and Sanchez being on the hook for the remaining $13.5 million.

That's not quite accurate. The Dodgers will have to pay the whole amount less $3 million.

Under California law (where the trial was held), defendants in personal injury cases are considered "jointly and severally" liable for economic losses. That means that each defendant is ultimately responsible for the entire amount owed to the plaintiff even if he or she is only partly responsible. So if there are three defendants being sued, and two don't have any money, the third has to pick up the tab irrespective of his share of the liability.

So that means if the Dodgers were found to be only one per cent liable, the team would still have to pay just about the entire award (some have criticized this legal principle, saying that it unfairly allocates liability).

It's important to note, however, that under this legal principle, the Dodgers are only on the hook for Stow's economic losses. These are called "special damages" and include things like medical expenses, future medical expenses, loss of earnings and loss of future earnings. On the flip side, the Dodgers are not obligated to pay more than their share of "general damages", which includes pain and suffering and mental anguish.

In the Stow case, special damages account for most of the award. According to my math, the jury awarded Stow $14 million in special damages and another $4 million for pain and suffering.

So while the Dodgers are only 25 per cent responsible for the $14 million, they pay all of it because Norwood and Sanchez can't pay. On top of that, they only pay $1 million of the $4 million pain and suffering award.

So that grand total for the Dodgers is $15 million of the $18 million despite only being 25 per cent responsible. The Dodgers could turn around and sue Norwood and Sanchez, but since they have no money, it's probably pointless.

By the way, the jury didn't find former Dodger owner Frank McCourt liable. While McCourt was not beloved by Dodger fans or Major League Baseball, that is the right finding. It can be very tough to find an owner responsible in a case like this. Generally, liability will be assigned to the company and not the person running it. McCourt did not assault Stow and should not be liable for his customers engaging in reprehensible behaviour. It's not inappropriate, however, to find a team partly responsible in certain circumstances.

Finally, according to this Court Order, Stow has agreed to only seek money from the 17 Dodgers insurance policies and not the team itself. While these insurance policies are unavailable, the Dodgers have said they are worth $300 million. So Stow should get his money. The Court Order was part of a deal to get the Dodgers, who were in bankruptcy court, to agree to move the trial from bankruptcy court in Delaware to a more favourable venue for Stow, namely, a California court.

As a result of the incident, Stow's life and that of his young family have been forever and irreparably changed. This damage award will help, but of course will never return Stow to any type of normal life.

He and his family will always struggle.

Spring Training Baseballs (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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