DJ Settles Suit Over Neck-Breaking Stage Dive

     SAN DIEGO (CN) — On the eve of trial, DJ Steve Aoki settled claims filed by a woman who says he broke her neck during a stunt performance when he jumped 20 feet from a stage and landed in an inflatable raft, knocking her unconscious. But the trial against the Hard Rock Hotel San Diego, where the event was held, continued with opening statements this week.
     Brittany Hickman sustained a cervical spine fracture when Aoki did one of his signature stunts at the Memorial Day pool party at the Hard Rock Hotel in downtown San Diego on May 27, 2012. Aoki, who’s known for antics such as spraying champagne and throwing cake at his cult following of thousands who turn out for his DJ sets, scaled a wall on the rooftop stage of the downtown hotel before jumping into a raft held up by fans.
     A very young jury — with at least half appearing to be about college age — heard from Hickman’s attorney Jeremiah Lowe Tuesday about how the day’s events unfolded. Lowe painted a picture of a Hard Rock Hotel completely unprepared to ensure the safety of its guests during Aoki’s high-flying stunt, saying they were not ready for the “hyped-up performance.”
     He said the “Sunday Intervention” show Hickman attended catered to people in their 20s and 30s, with a rooftop pool party complete with bar and food service for the thousands who attended. Aoki’s performance was particularly popular, drawing a crowd of 1,500 young people, Lowe said.
     Lowe said Hard Rock security should have anticipated Aoki’s performance “would get pretty rowdy” since he’d performed there the year before and pulled essentially the same stunts, even jumping into the raft from the stage in 2011.
     At his show in 2012, there were no security guards anywhere near the raft, Lowe said. Aoki plays a specific song anytime he does jumps or stunts, and the song was played as he climbed the roof and jumped 20 feet into the raft below, according to Lowe.
     Hickman was among a number of people who were knocked down during Aoki’s stunt, but unlike the others who got up and brushed themselves off, she was knocked unconscious and was picked up and moved by a security guard to a “makeshift hospital room” in one of the hotel rooms, Lowe said.
     Eventually Hickman got up and made it back to the party, but she had pain in her jaw, neck and head which prompted her to go to the emergency room once she was back home in Arizona a couple days later. After she had a scan of her neck, she was told “not to move” and was put in a neck brace which she wore for about four months, according to Lowe.
     Hickman wasn’t able to work for weeks, and while she didn’t initially require surgery to fix the fracture, radiating pain in her neck and arm have required additional treatment in the years since she was knocked down by Aoki.
     Lowe showed jurors a huge color-coded poster board which showed Hickman’s “treatment roadmap” of more than 130 visits to doctors and physical therapists since her neck was broken. Because of ongoing pain, Hickman had surgery last year to address some of the “constellation of problems” caused by her injury, Lowe said.
     Hickman’s permanent problems including post-traumatic headaches and migraines, neck pain, dizziness and vision problems will cost from $366,000 to $783,000 to manage over the rest of her life, Lowe said. While Lowe said Hickman is not requesting jurors award past medical expenses or wage loss, she has asked for future losses as well as non-economic losses, though he did not indicate what amount Hickman would be requesting.
     “The issue is she cannot be the same active person she was before,” Lowe told jurors.
     “Steve Aoki did jump on her and he took responsibility for that. But Hard Rock has not taken any responsibility in allowing their guests to be hurt,” Lowe said.
     When Hard Rock’s attorney Kevin Gramling addressed jurors, he deflected any responsibility by the hotel and put all the blame on Aoki.
     “The reason we’re here today is because they want millions and millions and millions of dollars. Steve Aoki is responsible for what happened. Nobody at Hard Rock knew what he was going to do,” Gramling said.
     Gramling acknowledged that Hard Rock knew Aoki would likely pull his well-known stunts but pointed out that at the 2011 show, Aoki did not climb 20 feet to jump from what he referred to as a “truss” above the stage at the rooftop party. No one from Aoki’s team knew he would do one of his “high jumps,” and even his tour manager didn’t believe he would attempt the stunt, Gramling said.
     Aoki did not decide he would jump until just minutes before he performed the stunt, according to Gramling. When Aoki climbed up the truss and jumped off, the whole stunt happened in a matter of seconds and did not give any of the 50 security guards time to respond, according to Gramling.
     While Gramling did not dispute Hickman’s neck was injured during the Hard Rock party, questioned the legitimacy of her claims regarding the ongoing pain management she’s gone to more than 100 doctor’s appointments for. Hickman did not complain of typical symptoms related to a concussion until “many months” after she was injured, Gramling said.
     “She never complained of what this injury has allegedly morphed into,” Gramling told the jury.

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