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Harrah’s Laughlin found liable in fatal 2002 casino brawl

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AP Photo/K.M. Cannon

Motorcyclists drive past Harrah’s casino in Laughlin on the final day of the River Run motorcycle gathering April 28, 2002.

Updated Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010 | 3:15 p.m.

Click to enlarge photo

An unidentified man waits his turn to board a police van outside Harrah's Hotel and Casino on April 27, 2002, in Laughlin. Three people were killed in an early-morning shooting at the casino as rival biker gangs clashed with knives and guns.

A jury has found Harrah's Laughlin liable for injuries sustained by bystanders when a fight broke out among rival biker gangs at the hotel-casino in 2002, killing three people.

Las Vegas attorney E. Brent Bryson on Thursday said the jury verdict was announced late Wednesday in Clark County District Court and that the damages portion of the trial will begin Friday.

Casino officials were aware trouble was brewing between members of the Hell's Angels and Mongols gangs, but didn't act, and security was inadequate, resulting in injuries to his clients, Bryson said.

"They chose to ignore that information," said Bryson, adding this appears to be the first time Harrah's has been found liable in the incident.

In five federal lawsuits and at least one California state lawsuit over the brawl, plaintiffs have lost against Harrah's, court records show.

Harrah's Laughlin, owned by Harrah's Entertainment Inc. of Las Vegas, may appeal the verdict, one of Harrah's attorneys said.

"We obviously disagree with the finding of liability," said attorney James Olson of the law firm Olson, Cannon, Gormley & Desruisseaux, who defended the case along with Columbia, S.C., attorney Robert Foster Jr.

"This wasn't going to be stopped," he said of the incident, in which he said Hell's Angels members stormed into the casino past two armed police officers.

Harrah's has long argued in legal motions the casino wasn't liable for the criminal acts of the bikers.

Harrah's attorneys said these acts included a "spontaneous and tragic biker gang brawl" just after 2 a.m. on April 27, 2002, during Laughlin's annual River Run event attracting tens of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts to the Southern Nevada town.

The attorneys said the "intelligence information provided to Harrah's prior to River Run 2002 was substantially similar to prior River Runs. This melee was unforeseeable -- therefore, Harrah's owed no duty to protect from these third party criminal acts."

One of the plaintiffs, Michael Bower, claimed in the lawsuit he was caught in the crossfire between the Hell's Angels and Mongols, with the bikers armed with guns, knives and other weapons. Bower said he dove off his gaming chair to seek cover and suffered a back injury as well as emotional trauma and flashbacks to combat during the Vietnam War.

Bower had been suffering from post traumatic stress disorder prior to the Laughlin incident and since then has been permanently disabled with post traumatic stress disorder syndrome, a court filing said.

Plaintiffs Kathy and Steven Fuller said in court papers they were gambling in the casino when they were engulfed by a stampede caused by the biker fight and at one point found themselves in an elevator with several Mongols armed with guns.

Andrea and Dean Daniels said in court papers they were playing blackjack when the fight broke out and that they also took to the floor for safety.

The plaintiffs alleged premises liability, negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress and other counts.

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