Dodgers ordered to pay beaten fan $14 million: Will sports security tighten?

Bryan Stow, a San Francisco Giants fan, was beaten by two men while leaving the opening day game in 2011 in Los Angeles. On Wednesday, a California jury found the Dodgers partially responsible.

Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/AP
Bryan Stow is surrounded by family and media as he is led into the Los Angeles County Superior Courthouse in Los Angeles, June 25. Mr. Stow won his negligence suit against the Los Angeles Dodgers, but former owner Frank McCourt was absolved by the jury.

A California jury on Wednesday found the Los Angeles Dodgers partially responsible for the 2011 beating of Bryan Stow in the stadium parking lot. Sports law experts are skeptical about the verdict's impact on security at major sporting events.

After nine days of tense deliberation, the jury ordered the team to pay Mr. Stow nearly $14 million in damages but exonerated then-owner Frank McCourt of all responsibility in a 9-to-3 decision. The jury determined that the assailants bore a portion of the responsibility and should pay an additional $4 million, but they were not named in the lawsuit and cannot be held to the decision.

Stow, a San Francisco Giants fan, sustained what doctors say are permanently disabling injuries when he was attacked by two men in Dodgers apparel while leaving the opening day game at Dodger Stadium. Two Rialto, Calif., men – Louis Sanchez and Marvin Norwood – pleaded guilty to the assault this past February and are serving eight and four year sentences, respectively.

Following Wednesday's verdict, one juror expressed hope that the decision and penalty would prompt the team to improve security at its stadium.

The team “did have a [security] plan, but somewhere along the line that plan broke. And it needed to be fixed,” juror Carlos Munoz told the Associated Press. “Hopefully we helped to fix it.... If you’re going to own a stadium, do it right.”

However, sports law experts said the award amount pales in comparison with the actual value of major league baseball teams and could simply be folded into the cost of doing business. According to Forbes, the Dodgers will be able to deduct the full $13.9 million payout as a business expense.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a game-changer in terms of how teams look at security,” Michael McCann, founding director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire, told AP. However, “if injuries like these can give rise to these types of damages, for minor league teams this can be a more significant amount.”

A 2013 USA Today investigation of security at sporting events following the bombings at the Boston Marathon found that stadium security officers are typically underpaid and frequently receive insufficient training. Some security experts equate the show of force seen at stadium gates to a kind of “security theater.”

“Security in the United States is all about bells and whistles,” former Israel Defense Forces official Rafi Sela told USA Today. “You see the guards standing at stadiums and bus stations. It’s not even considerable deterrence anymore.”

The investigation found that professional and major college teams frequently select private security firms in a low-bid process. While many states require security guards to apply for licenses, seven states do not. Among those states that do require licenses, several don't require any training.

Even in states that heavily regulate the security industry, individuals with criminal backgrounds are not always identified until after they have been issued a license. In the first five months of 2013, California revoked more than 150 licenses after uncovering prior criminal convictions, USA Today found. Florida revokes more than 350 security licenses each year for similar reasons.

• This report contains material from The Associated Press and Reuters.

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