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Carri Geer Thevenot

Las Vegas jury awards comedian George Wallace $1.3 million in suit against Bellagio

9 April 2014

A Las Vegas jury awarded $1.3 million Tuesday to comedian George Wallace, who claimed the Bellagio’s negligence caused his on-stage injury in 2007.

Wallace, a Flamingo headliner for the past decade, was performing at a private party at the Bellagio when his Achilles tendon ruptured on Dec. 8, 2007. He said he stumbled over loose electrical wires on the stage.

“I’d rather have a good foot than have the money,” Wallace said after hearing the verdict.

The 66-year-old comedian said he was disappointed with the amount of damages he was awarded — his attorney had asked the jury to award him at least $7 million for lost earnings — and with what he viewed as an undercurrent of racism in the case.

Wallace, who is black, said he was concerned that the jury had no black members. In addition, Wallace said he was troubled by images that Bellagio attorney Paul Haire presented to the jury on Friday.

During his closing argument in the case, Haire displayed three pictures. The first was a photo of Wallace, the second was a photo of Wallace that had been cut in half, and the third was what Wallace described as a “black caricature with a pickaninny hairdo.”

“I’ve been working hard all my life to get where I wanted to be,” Wallace said. “That did hurt me in the court more than anything else.”

After learning about Wallace’s comments on Tuesday, Haire said he approached the comedian and apologized.

“I certainly did not mean to demean him in any way,” the attorney said.

Haire said he had used the images in an attempt to diminish the testimony of an expert witness who had testified for the plaintiff.

The attorney said he did not know whether the Bellagio would appeal the jury’s decision.

After discussing his regrets Tuesday, Wallace said, “You know what? We won.”

He then announced that he will be ending his Flamingo show on April 27. He said he plans to start a TV show “and even have more fun with Las Vegas.”

Wallace said he could not elaborate on his plans, but he did not rule out future work at the Bellagio.

“As a matter of fact, I should go there for lunch. It’s on them, right?” he joked.

Attorney Dominic Gentile, who represents Wallace, said the Bellagio had an opportunity to settle the case before trial for less than what the jury awarded.

Gentile said he was most pleased by the jury’s determination that Wallace’s injury “was 100 percent the fault of the Bellagio.”

During the trial, Haire argued that Wallace had a pre-existing injury that led to a “spontaneous” rupture of his tendon. He argued that the Bellagio did nothing to cause the injury.

Bellagio stagehand Robert Cohen took pictures after the 2007 performance that showed loose cables coming out of two speakers.

Although he previously gave a deposition in the case, Cohen was on vacation in Venezuela and not available to testify at the trial.

“Thank God for that employee at the Bellagio,” Wallace said.

Gentile had asked the jury to award Wallace $3.9 million for earnings he has lost because of his injury, plus $3.1 million for earnings he will lose in the future because of his injury.

Jurors voted 6-2 to award Wallace $1.2 million for lost income, plus $100,000 for past pain and suffering and $8,500 for medical expenses. They awarded him no money for future losses.

“He was back to making the money he was making before,” jury foreman John Macfarlane explained.

Wallace said he will walk with a limp for the rest of his life.