Michael J. Briggs vs. L.A. Fitness International, LLC, et al.

    01.22.2008

    Jury Trial January 22, 2008
    Christopher E. Faenza

    Christopher Faenza and Kelly Douglas obtained a defense verdict on behalf of L.A. Fitness International, LLC, in this negligence/premises liability action involving a physical altercation between two sets of brothers — Michael and Jason Briggs, and Ricky and Juan Cavazos — on a basketball court at the L.A. Fitness facility located in Chino Hills.

    The incident occurred on October 12, 2005, toward the tail end of a closely scored basketball game where the Cavazos brothers and the Briggs brothers were playing on opposing teams. The players had played basketball together on prior occasions without incident. On the date of the incident, Jason Briggs and Ricky Cavazos collided in an attempt to keep a rebounding ball in play. According to plaintiff, Jason Briggs was pushed up against the glass wall of the basketball court during the collision and was quickly surrounded by members of the opposing team. Witness testimony established that Jason Briggs put up his fists in an aggressive manner and an altercation ensued. Several L.A. Fitness employees entered the court within seconds and helped diffuse the situation. At trial, plaintiff claimed that L.A. Fitness staff members escorted the Cavazos brothers off the basketball court, while several members of the staff remained in the basketball court with plaintiff. The defense presented evidence that plaintiff and his brother were asked to leave the gym, but refused. Thereafter, the Cavazos brothers volunteered to leave.

    By all accounts, there were no injuries during this phase of the altercation. Plaintiff admitted that there was no need to call the police at that time. In fact, plaintiff and his brother began to pick up where they left off with the basketball game. According to plaintiff, Juan Cavazos returned to the court a couple of minutes later and approached plaintiff with an outstretched hand, but plaintiff refused to shake hands. Thereafter, Ricky Cavazos came from behind and struck the side of plaintiff's head. At trial, Ricky Cavazos admitted that he struck plaintiff, but testified that he did so in defense of his brother.

    Plaintiff sustained a right orbital fracture as a result of the punch thrown by Ricky Cavazos, requiring multiple surgeries. Plaintiff sought damages in excess of $80,000 for past economic and noneconomic damages, as well as $500,000 for future noneconomic damages.

    Ricky Cavazos, Juan Cavazos, and L.A. Fitness were named defendants in the case. Prior to trial, plaintiff limited his claims against Ricky and Juan Cavazos to negligence in a tactical move to defeat a pending declaratory relief action. Plaintiff argued that L.A. Fitness was liable for his damages because his security expert opined that the nonsecurity personnel should have somehow anticipated the assault and physically restrained Ricky Cavazos to prevent his return to the basketball court. In turn, L.A. Fitness filed cross-actions against Michael and Jason Briggs and against Ricky and Juan Cavazos.

    In defense, Mr. Faenza and Ms. Douglas contested liability by presenting expert testimony that the actions of the nonsecurity personnel were reasonable under the circumstances, especially given the absence of prior similar incidents. Testimony from several employees and witnesses was presented to dispute plaintiff's claims of negligence on the part of L.A. Fitness. In addition, plaintiff was effectively impeached with his own deposition testimony regarding the absence of prior similar incidents.

    After a four-day trial, the jury deliberated for two hours and returned a verdict in favor of L.A. Fitness. The jury also determined that plaintiff's damages totaled $80,346 and attributed 25 percent of fault to plaintiff. The jury assigned responsibility for plaintiff's damages as follows: Ricky Cavazos — 60 percent; Juan Cavazos — 5 percent; and Jason Briggs — 10 percent.

    Prior to trial, defendant, L.A. Fitness International, LLC's served a statutory offer to compromise for a waiver of costs upon plaintiff. Because the offer was rejected by plaintiff, L.A. Fitness was awarded its costs and expert fees in the amount of $19,166.

    Post-Trial

    Plaintiff moved for a new trial, claiming that the court erred in granting the defense's motion limiting the amount of plaintiff's medical damages to the amount paid versus the amount charged. Plaintiff's motion was denied as to L.A. Fitness, but granted as to the Cavazos brothers. The Cavazos brothers have appealed the court's order on the motion for new trial. In addition, plaintiff has filed an appeal as to the entire verdict. Both appeals are currently pending.

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