Comedian George Wallace was performing at a private corporate event at the Bellagio in December 2007 when his Achilles tendon ruptured.
Wallace, who said his foot became entangled in loose electrical wires on the stage, later filed a personal injury lawsuit against the Strip resort and HSBC Card Services Inc., which sponsored the event.
He since has reached an undisclosed settlement with HSBC, but the case against the Bellagio proceeded to trial this week. Wallace, 61, is seeking millions of dollars in damages from the resort for lost earnings, pain and suffering and medical expenses.
Attorney Dominic Gentile, who represents the comedian, said 2007 was “the best earnings year that George Wallace ever had.”
“The year 2007 was great for George Wallace until the end,” Gentile told jurors Friday during his opening statement.
Gentile said the comedian underwent surgery and physical therapy before learning in September 2009 that his disability was permanent.
Wallace and his company, Crazy World Inc., filed the lawsuit in November 2009. It accused the defendants of negligence.
Gentile said Wallace, who had spotlights shining in his eyes, could not see the loose black cables on the black stage.
The comedian said the injury forced him to cancel many of his nightly performances at the Flamingo, where he has been a headliner for the past decade, and forced him to decline a movie role.
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld briefly appeared in the courtroom Friday as jury selection was nearing completion. Gentile later told jurors that Seinfeld had come to talk to Wallace about Wallace’s 10th anniversary show, scheduled for that night at the Flamingo.
The lawyer said Seinfeld and Wallace “grew up in the comedy business together.”
“They are very close, and they made their way up the ladder together,” Gentile said.
Bellagio attorney Paul Haire said evidence will show that Wallace had a pre-existing injury that led to a “spontaneous” rupture of his Achilles tendon during his performance at the HSBC holiday party on Dec. 8, 2007.
Haire also said Wallace attended a sound check several hours before the event and approved the setup of the stage.
Wallace was paid $30,000 for the 30-minute performance, which had an audience of about 900. Wallace mentioned his injury during the show, but Haire said the comedian proceeded to perform longer than the required 30 minutes.
Gentile said Wallace also made it to his show later that night at the Flamingo, where, “for the first time in his life,” he performed sitting down.
“George Wallace is all about ‘the show must go on,’ ” the lawyer said.
District Judge Ronald Israel is presiding over the trial, which will include testimony from economists and medical experts.
Gentile did not say specify the amount Wallace is seeking.
“We’re clearly looking at millions of dollars here,” he told the jury.
Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-384-8710. Follow @CarriGeer on Twitter.