Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
March 24, 2009
LAW/BASKETBALL: An Expert In Brawling
In the early hours of July 20, 2005, a brawl erupted at the Eyebar, a Washington, D.C. nightclub. Among the injured was Marlin Godfrey, a patron in the Eyebar VIP area that night. He suffered a concussion, a ruptured eardrum, a burst blood vessel in his eye, a torn rotator cuff, various cuts and bruises, and emotional injuries. Godfrey sued Allen Iverson and his bodyguard, Jason Kane, both of whom were in the Eyebar VIP area that night. The amended complaint alleged that Kane and Terrance Williams, who also sometimes acted as Iverson's bodyguard, attacked him and directly caused his physical and emotional injuries, and that Iverson was negligent in failing to stop both men from injuring Godfrey.
Iverson's lawyer argued that traditionally, you can't sue an employer for "negligent supervision" (the theory under which Iverson was held responsible for what his bodyguard's misconduct) without expert testimony establishing how he should have trained his employee to deal with these situations. The court effectively concluded that an ordinary, reasonable-man standard of care applies when the beat-down happens in the employer's presence:
A jury may need the aid of expert testimony to evaluate how a hotel should train and otherwise supervise its security guards to ensure that they do not unreasonably use force on some future date. But it is a different thing altogether to say such expert assistance is needed to establish the standard of care for an individual who is present while his personal bodyguard, acting on his behalf in clearing a room in a nightclub, beats a customer and causes significant injuries. Iverson has pointed to no case in the District of Columbia - nor have we been able to locate any - dealing with the standard of care a person owes in supervising his personal bodyguard in his presence. The evidence in this case supported the jury's finding that Kane attacked Godfrey in a fight that lasted several minutes, and that Iverson stood and watched without attempting to do anything to stop the beating.
Of course, it may not have been admissible evidence given that it happened when he was a teenager, but Iverson has his own past history of brawling - which is, ironically, probably why he has a bodyguard now and possibly why he was hesitant to get involved. I'm not 100% comfortable with sticking him with the bill for everything his bodyguard does, and I'm sympathetic to the possibility that (1) the damages here were excessive and (2) the guy who picked the fight may have been setting Iverson up, but the jury didn't buy those arguments, and as far as the legal analysis goes, when you just stand there as a guy in your employ beats a man that badly, it's hard to say that the law shouldn't hold you responsible.