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Parents Can Revise Lawsuit in Staples Center Case

Court news on WestsideToday.com. (Thinkstock)
Court news on WestsideToday.com. (Thinkstock)

A judge ruled that a couple who sued the managers of Staples Center after their 34-month-old son was fatally injured in a fall from the ledge of a luxury suite almost four years ago can revise their wrongful death suit to seek punitive damages, it was reported June 27.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff also said plaintiffs Hoia Mi Nguyen and Henry Tang can reinstate their claim for unlawful business practices against defendants L.A. Arena Co. and L.A. Arena Funding.

Last year, Judge Susan Bryant-Deason granted a defense motion to dismiss the case, which the couple originally brought in May 2011 after the death a year earlier of their son, Lucas Tang.

“The court finds that the defendants did not owe a duty to the plaintiffs to properly supervise Lucas to prevent him from falling from the luxury box suite,” Bryant-Deason wrote in a two-page ruling. “The court finds that it was not foreseeable that Mr. Tang and Ms. Nguyen would place Lucas in an openly and obviously dangerous situation by putting him on top of the beverage bar where it was easily foreseeable the he could climb over the tempered glass and fall.”

Bryant-Deason also said the couple’s lawyers did not show how anything arena officials did or failed to do caused the boy’s fall.

However, Bryant-Deason’s ruling was reversed in February by a three- justice panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal, which found that she should have allowed the couple to amend their complaint to allege violations of state and municipal building codes.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs told Beckloff they will file the revised complaint on June 30. According to their court papers, they learned after the original complaint was filed that Staples Center management knew spectators in luxury suits get drunk and engage in “dangerous horseplay.”

They also state in their court papers that the arena never obtained permission from the Los Angeles Dept. of Building and Safety to build the ledge from which the boy fell.

The plaintiffs did not seek punitive damages in the original suit and defense attorney Michael Moss told Beckloff he will file a motion to strike them from the revised suit. The judge scheduled a hearing for Aug. 19.

The appeals court affirmed Bryant-Deason’s ruling that dismissed the portion of the complaint against NBBJ LP, the arena’s architects. The lawsuit was assigned to Beckloff after the plaintiffs’ attorneys filed papers to remove Bryant-Deason.

The toddler was killed on Nov, 21, 2010, during a game in which the Lakers defeated the Golden State Warriors.

Nguyen, asked during a pretrial deposition why she put her son on the ledge, replied, “So I can take a picture and capture the moment for his first Lakers game.”

The luxury boxes are open at the front to aid spectator viewing of events. The only barrier is a “pony wall,” according to the suit, which says a ledge sticks out toward the interior of the box that can be used in various ways, including as a table.

The newly amended suit also alleges negligent infliction of emotional distress on behalf of Nguyen, who maintains there were no written warnings about the ledge — referred to in the lawsuit as a beverage bench — and that the plexiglass barrier along most of it was only about 10 inches high.

Nguyen stated in a deposition that she took four photos of her son with her iPhone just before he fell.

“I was holding my camera and I took the last picture of him and I glanced down at the fourth picture,” she said. “When I glanced back up to take the next one, I noticed he wasn’t there.”

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