Monday, Nov. 8, 2010 | 5:50 p.m.
- Harrah’s Laughlin found liable in fatal 2002 casino brawl (11-4-10)
- Court hears arguments in Harrah’s Laughlin motorcycle case (5-4-09)
- Charges remain against Mongols and Hells Angels (1-14-05)
- New River Run rules in place as bikers roll into Laughlin (4-23-03)
- Metro officers’ gunshots in Laughlin melee probed (5-2-02)
After years of litigation, an undisclosed settlement was reached between Harrah's Laughlin hotel-casino and five bystanders who were caught up in a deadly 2002 melee between two rival motorcycle gangs that erupted during the annual River Run event. Plaintiffs on Monday discussed the case publicly for the first time.
The battle ended up killing two Hell's Angels members and one Mongols gang member in the Southern Nevada town, where tens of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts had gathered.
The bystanders at the casino were "diving around, fearing for their life, jumping on the floor, seeing people shot, stabbed, hammers being used, wrenches being used on individuals," Las Vegas attorney Brent Bryson said at a press conference at his office Monday. "It was quite traumatic and certainly a life-altering event."
One of the five bystanders, Dean Daniels, of Norco, Calif., said that for himself and his wife, Andrea, "it was actually quite terrifying because we feared for our life."
"I had to actually take my wife down underneath the blackjack table and cover her up, for fear of being shot," Daniels said. "There's no words to describe the way you feel when you think you're going to die."
Harrah's Laughlin has long argued in legal motions the casino wasn't liable for the criminal acts of the bikers.
However, last Wednesday, after hearing in excess of 15 witnesses during a civil trial that lasted almost three weeks, the jury held Harrah's Laughlin liable for the bystanders' injuries and trauma. Harrah's Laughlin is owned by Harrah's Entertainment Inc. of Las Vegas.
A Harrah's attorney last week said after the verdict that Harrah's would consider an appeal. Attempts to contact Harrah's attorney Monday about the settlement reached Friday with the plaintiffs were unsuccessful.
"While the jury may not have heard the whole story due to the bifurcated nature of the trial, they did hear a significant amount of the evidence and they found a liability, which was a beginning of the healing process, I believe, for the plaintiffs," said Barney Ales, co-counsel for the plaintiffs.
The jury found that casino officials were aware trouble was brewing between members of the Hell's Angels and Mongols gangs, but didn't provide proper security, Bryson said.
"There had been information that an incident had been building between these two organizations and there had been a history of bad blood and feuding between these organizations, as well as the Hell's Angels and a coalition of other outlaw biker gangs," Bryson said.
It was 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.
After the liability part of the trial was determined, the jury was to begin deciding Friday what damages should be awarded to his clients, Bryson said.
However, that same day they were able to reach a settlement with Harrah's, Bryson said. One of the terms of the negotiated settlement is that the amount would be kept confidential, he said.
The matter has been tied up in the courts for years. Initially, District Judge Susan Johnson had issued a pre-trial summary judgment in favor of the hotel-casino.
"We were blocked from going to trial because a couple of other cases had gone to trial and Harrah's had won," Bryson said. Judge Johnson had also ordered sanctions close to $340,000 against his clients for filing a frivolous lawsuit, he said.
However, the Nevada Supreme Court overturned Johnson's ruling and allowed the plaintiffs to take their case back to Johnson for trial in district court.
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 badly injured his spine as he dove off his gaming chair to seek cover. He also said he experienced emotional trauma and flashbacks to combat during the Vietnam War.
"I thought I was having a heart attack. I was shaking to no end," he said Monday. "... I was in the hospital with 11 Hell's Angels. They put that hospital on lockdown, saying the Mongols were coming and they were going to kill everybody in that hospital."
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, Goodyear, Ariz., weren't at the press conference, but gave Bryson a written statement to read.
"I believe it was a reasonable expectation and an expectation that most people would believe, that a resort hotel would provide a safe environment for its guests," Fuller's statement said.
Papers filed with the court said the Fullers 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.
"Most people will never experience a violent incident of the magnitude experienced by those present during the actual shooting at Harrah's during the early morning hours of April 27, 2002," said Fuller, who was a former law enforcement officer with the Los Angeles and Riverside County sheriffs' departments.