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Frank McCourt, Dodgers try to limit scope of Stow family suit

The suit, filed on behalf of beating victim Bryan Stow's two children, alleges that security cutbacks and free-flowing alcohol at the park contributed to the attack.

August 13, 2011|By Victoria Kim and Kate Mather, Los Angeles Times
  • Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, left, talks with Dodgers owner Frank McCourt on opening day before the Dodgers game against the San Francisco Giants.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, left, talks with Dodgers owner Frank McCourt… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)

Attorneys for the Dodgers and owner Frank McCourt have asked a judge not to allow the children of San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow, who was beaten at Dodger Stadium, to sue over their father's injuries.

The attorneys also asked that references to drinking at the stadium and to McCourt's wealth be thrown out, saying they were irrelevant to the case. McCourt's legal team also wants descriptions of the March 31 beating as "brutal and vicious" removed. The lawyers are trying to significantly reduce the scope of the lawsuit.

The Stow family sued McCourt and 13 other Dodger-related entities in May alleging that security cutbacks, free-flowing alcohol and antiquated facilities — such as outdated light fixtures in the parking lot — contributed to the beating. The suit was filed on behalf of Stow and his two preteen children, Tyler and Tabitha.

Two men, Louie Sanchez and Marvin Norwood, have since been arrested and accused of being the assailants behind the attack. They pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of mayhem and assault.

The team's attorneys argued in papers filed Tuesday that most of the claims in the lawsuit should not be allowed to go forward as a matter of law. They also accused the family's attorneys of "littering" their lawsuit with "a wide variety of statements and accusations that are irrelevant, superfluous, inflammatory and prejudicial."

Thomas Girardi, an attorney for the Stow family, said in an interview Friday that none of the allegations were being made "loosely."

"The same evidence we talk about now is the same evidence the jury is going to hear," he said. "Believe me, we've got 'em."

A lawyer representing McCourt and the team, Jerome Jackson, said that what happened to Stow was squarely the result of "a senseless criminal act apparently perpetrated by two people who now are in custody."

"Although this is a tragedy, the Dodgers look forward to their day in court to defend the baseless accusations that have been made in this case," he said.

In the filings, attorneys for McCourt and the team said Stow's children could not sue as "a matter of common sense" because they were nowhere near the stadium at the time of the incident.

"Indeed if the law were otherwise, the owner of every stadium, arena, mall, grocery store and restaurant would automatically owe a duty of care to every child and every spouse of every person who walked through the door," attorneys wrote in the papers.

One legal expert said, however, that a judge would probably allow the children to proceed with their claims in some fashion. Even if they were not directly harmed, the children clearly suffered economic and other losses when their father was injured, said Gregory Keating, a law professor at USC.

"They're not claiming they were the direct victims, they're claiming that they suffered harm from the negligence because they have to grow up without a father," he said, explaining the claim of "loss of consortium." Keating, an expert on tort law, pointed to the successful civil lawsuit brought against O.J. Simpson by his ex-wife's parents, saying the "relational harm" to children who lose a parent is larger than for parents who lose a child.

He said Stow's children probably make for "very sympathetic plaintiffs" that the defense attorneys would be concerned about in a jury trial.

Dodger attorneys also asked that references to the sale and consumption of alcohol at the stadium be removed from the lawsuit, along with comments about a "purported gang presence at Dodger Stadium." The seller of alcoholic beverages cannot be liable for the actions of people who become intoxicated, and there was no evidence the attackers were gang members, they contended.

The papers also requested that any reference to McCourt's "purported financial status, assets and lifestyle" be thrown out, calling them "irrelevant and improper."

"This is a premises liability case. It is not a corporate fraud action or a shareholder derivative suit," attorneys wrote. "Allegations relating to Mr. McCourt's finances, his use of funds, the corporate structure of his assets, or his lifestyle simply have no place here."

In the lawsuit, Stow's attorneys had blamed the McCourts' much-publicized lifestyle, the details of which emerged during his divorce from ex-wife, Jamie, for what they said had been a "disturbing reduction in security staff" in the years leading up to the incident.

Keating, the law professor, said the intense media and public interest in the case was probably playing a factor in both sides' court filings. Stow's attorneys want the spotlight on McCourt because he "makes a pretty good villain," and the Dodgers' attorneys want to protest that their clients are not being treated fairly because of public emotions running high, he said.

"In trial everybody tells a story, " he said. "You want to get your narrative out there."

A hearing for the Dodgers' requests is scheduled for Sept. 30.

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