Attorneys Differ on Whether Rodney Dangerfield Deserves Respect
LAS VEGAS (AP) _ A lawyer for Rodney Dangerfield said Tuesday comic who complains of getting no respect received none when he was allegedly injured in a steam room accident at Caesars Palace in March 1988.
But an attorney for the resort countered that Dangerfield created his own problems, saying the eye injuries he blamed on Caesars were self-inflicted.
Caesars’ lawyer Louis Meisinger told jurors in U.S. District Court in his opening statement they would know why Dangerfield gets no respect once the civil trial ends.
Dangerfield is suing Caesars for $225,000 in lost wages plus damages of $5 million in connection with the accident. Caesars is countersuing Dangerfield for $100,000 plus punitive damages.
Dangerfield left Caesars following the March 1988 incident. He now performs across the Strip, at Bally’s Hotel.
Attorney Barry Langberg said Dangerfield had performed nearly 1,000 shows in Las Vegas without a cancellation until his eyes were burned in the steam room accident March 16, 1988.
He said Caesars tried to escape blame for the accident and refused to pay Dangerfield $225,000 for five performances he missed after the accident.
Meisinger described Dangerfield as a ″petulant performer″ and said his injuries were ″a figment of his fertile, comedic imagination.″ He called on the jury to ″send a message to peformers like Mr. Dangerfield that they are not special and cannot do things like that.″
Dangerfield took the stand for two hours Tuesday and testified he canceled a packed-house show after learning Caesars planned to delay payment for shows he missed a few days earlier.
″Emotionally, I couldn’t do it,″ Dangerfield said. ″I just walked out and told the people that my eyes hurt me and I can’t perform. I said ‘Get your money and your tips back.’ ″
Dangerfield testified that after a show he was burned by a ″burst of steam″ that scalded his eyes and forced him to wear dark glasses.
″I wanted to go to work but I couldn’t perform,″ the comedian said. ″I can’t work with sunglasses. It’s not my image.″
Lawyers for both sides huddled for more than an hour before opening arguments began Tuesday, reviewing a series of motions. One issue is whether to allow claims raised by Caesars in court papers filed last month.
The resort claimed in the papers that Dangerfield used large amounts of marijuana, cocaine and vodka.
Dangerfield denied the allegations Monday. ″Anybody who knows me knows it’s untrue,″ he said after jury selection.
The drug issue was not raised in opening arguments.
Langberg said Dangerfield’s eyes were injured by a burst of steam when he entered a steam room.
Dangerfield missed shows March 17, 18 and 19, when two shows were scheduled, then performed shows March 20 and 21 while in pain, Langberg said.
Caesars officials paid Dangerfield for only three nights on March 22. He went on stage and announced to a packed house that he wouldn’t be performing that night, and suggested the audience get their money back, Meisinger said.
″We think this is a simple case that the Caesars that injured Rodney Dangerfield through its negligence should pay him,″ Langberg contended.
Meisinger said Dangerfield is attempting to blame Caesars for an eye problem the comic has had since the 1970s. He said Dangerfield’s eye problems have been compounded by a medication he continues to use despite doctors’ warnings that it could severely damage his eyes. He said Dangerfield applied the medication to his eyes 10 times in one hour the day after the steam room incident.
″Mr. Dangerfield essentially applied poison to his own eyes,″ Meisinger said. ″The injury was a self-inflicted act by Mr. Dangerfield.″
Meisinger said Dangerfield visited doctors in the days after the accident.
″These doctors will testify they thought he could have performed, but they thought he was not motivated to perform,″ Meisinger said. ″This is a case of a performer who got very, very mad when Caesars said ‘we expect you to live up to your contract.’ ″