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6th Circuit Holds Fan's 'Mid-Game' Assault Case Against Kobe Bryant May Continue

The Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant was again a player in a courtroom drama today, but not because of his recent divorce or the 2003 accusation of rape that was lodged against him and later dropped. Today, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that because a material question of fact remained on a fan's claim that Kobe committed the torts of assault and battery against him during (yes, during) a Lakers-Grizzlies basketball game, the district court's entry of summary judgment for Bryant on that claim was improper.

On Nov. 14, 2005, Bill Geeslin was sitting in the front row of the FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn., to watch the home team, the Memphis Grizzlies, play the Lakers. During the game, a Lakers player directed a pass toward Bryant but the ball headed out of bounds. Geeslin alleges that while attempting to control the ball, Bryant was pushed by a Grizzlies player and "careened out of bounds, into or onto the plaintiff. Geeslin spilled his beer, and was pushed backwards in the folding chair."

Geeslin does not complain about this initial contact. His complaint is about what happened next. Geeslin alleges that

Bryant, in getting himself up and back into the game, pushed his forearm into Geeslin’s chest in an unnecessary and forceful manner, causing him injury. Geeslin also alleges that Bryant "glared" at him as he moved away and did not apologize.

Two days later, Geeslin sought medical attention for pain in his chest, and was diagnosed with a bruised lung cavity. He received treatment and physical symptoms dissipated after two weeks. Geeslin filed suit against Bryant shortly after the game. He passed away in June 2008, and an Amended Complaint was filed stating that the incident between Geeslin and Bryant "contributed as a proximate cause to [Geeslin's] death. ..."

In 2006, Bryant was asked about the incident and the lawsuit, and said "I really don't know too much about it. ... Players are always going to try to save a loose ball and win the game. That's something a player has to do. I don't actually remember the play. That's what makes it so interesting."

The district court granted summary judgment in Bryant's favor on the assault and battery claims. Today, however, the 6th Circuit reversed the lower court. The 6th Circuit held that 

Although the district court found that Geeslin had "assumed the risk or consented to the entire contact between he and the Defendant," by virtue of taking the courtside seat, we find that analysis applies only to the initial contact between Geeslin and Bryant and not the secondary, offensive contact described by Geeslin. In viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Geeslin, as we must, we find that a material question of fact remains on his assault and battery claims. For this reason, the district court’s entry of summary judgment for Bryant on these claims was improper.

I tried to find a video clip of the incident but came up empty. Please send me a link if you can find the video and I'll post it here. 

Posted by Bruce Carton on December 22, 2011 at 04:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

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