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David Copperfield Makes Personal Injury Case Against Him Disappear

Posted June 01, 2018

By Jonathan A. Karon

This week a Las Vegas jury found that magician David Copperfield was not responsible for injuries suffered by an audience volunteer during one of his illusions.   The plaintiff, Gavin Cox, was one of  thirteen audience members who were selected for the final trick of the evening, known as “Lucky # 13”.  The audience members are brought onto a platform on stage, curtains are placed over them and when the curtains are removed, they have disappeared.  Copperfield then points to the back of the theater where the volunteers have re-appeared.

Copperfield’s lawyers initially fought disclosure of the secret of the illusion, arguing that revealing it would cause Copperfield significant financial harm.  In this case, however, the judge ruled that the magician had to reveal his secret and denied Copperfield’s request that the courtroom be closed to the public.  As revealed in court and reported in the media, after the curtains are placed over them, stagehands with flashlights guide the volunteers off the stage and through dark passageways.  At one point they leave and then re-enter the building and are led to the back of the theater.

Mr. Cox alleged that the stagehands led him through an alleyway covered with construction dust.   He claimed that he slipped on the dust and fell, suffering a traumatic brain injury, chronic pain and  a dislocated shoulder and incurring medical expenses in excess of $400,000.  The trial began in mid-April and lasted several weeks.

After approximately two hours of deliberations, the jury found that Copperfield, the MGM Grand Hotel (where he performed) and Copperfield’s company, were all negligent.  Nonetheless, they found that none of the defendants were liable for Mr. Cox’s injuries.  Instead, according to news reports they found that Mr. Cox was entirely responsible for his own injuries.

My loyalties are divided in this case.  I used to do magic while a kid and am a former card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.  I’ve also seen David Copperfield perform and thoroughly enjoyed his show.  On the other hand, I’m the current President of the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys, an organization of approximately one thousand attorneys, most of whom represent plaintiffs in personal injury cases.  I am quite sure, however, that I’m in no position to second guess the jury, who heard all the testimony and saw all the exhibits.  I also haven’t had the benefit of reading any of the pleadings or actually seeing the jury’s verdict slip.  So I’m not entirely sure what is meant by reports that the jury found the plaintiff “100% responsible”.   Like anyone else, stage magicians are supposed to exercise reasonable care not to endanger other people.  I suspect the jury concluded that Copperfield had not taken all necessary precautions for participants’ safety, but that this was not the reason that Mr. Cox fell.

Anyway, today’s blog post doesn’t really illustrate an important legal principle, except perhaps that even a world renowned illusionist is not (able to levitate) above the law.  But he was able to escape liability, when the case against him vanished.  Barring an appeal, it’s not likely to re-appear, since he stopped performing the illusion in 2015.




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