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Las Vegas lawyer sues China over fan-free Raiders games

Updated August 12, 2020 - 4:44 pm

Las Vegas lawyer William Schuller wants China to pay for his Raiders season tickets.

He argues in a federal lawsuit that the country lied about and mishandled the novel coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, the capital city of the Hubei province. Schuller is demanding that he and his mother, Elizabeth Cohen, and her husband, Larry Cohen, be reimbursed for the tickets and the fun they would have had watching football games at Allegiant Stadium.

“The decision to play the Las Vegas Raiders 2020 inaugural season without fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic deprived Plaintiffs of the opportunity to see the first games the storied Raiders franchise played in Las Vegas and to see some of the greatest NFL players in person,” Schuller wrote in the complaint.

The lawsuit, filed this week, is in part a timeline of China’s response to the virus alongside the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas.

In March 2019, long before the novel coronavirus ravaged the world, Schuller and thousands of others entered into personal seat licensing agreements, allowing them to purchase season tickets at the new stadium.

Schuller pointed out that the Raiders sold 65,000 season tickets, and about 60 percent of private seat licenses were sold to Nevada residents.

The complaint names the People’s Republic of China, the People’s Government of Hubei Province and the People’s Government of the City of Wuhan as defendants. It claims negligence and “strict liability for ultrahazardous or abnormally dangerous activities.”

Schuller said he understands that the lawsuit is unlikely to succeed, and he did not want to downplay the severity of the pandemic on human lives and the Las Vegas economy.

“It’s definitely an uphill battle,” he said of the complaint. “But I wanted to get our feelings out there. No one’s really pointing the finger at how all our lives had to be put on hold. And I think this lawsuit helps remedy that. The pandemic has affected so many lives on a bigger scale. This is just a small portion of the devastation they’ve caused in everyone’s lives.”

In March, with Las Vegas under lockdown, another Las Vegas law firm filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of small businesses against the Chinese government. That suit focuses on lost business, not missed entertainment. Three months later, attorney Robert Eglet, of the firm Eglet Adams, filed a summons in that case against the Communist Party of China.

The Raiders released their schedule, with 10 home games, in May.

“Notably, season ticket holders would have had the opportunity to see Saints Quarterback Drew Brees (“Brees”), Buccaneers Quarterback Tom Brady (“Brady”), and Chiefs Quarterback Patrick Mahomes (“Mahomes”) in person during the 2020 season,” Schuller wrote.

But on Aug. 3, about a week before Schuller filed the complaint, Raiders owner Mark Davis announced that the team would not allow fans inside the stadium.

Schuller, who grew up a New York Jets fan, said he woke up to an email about a season to be played in a nearly empty stadium.

“And it was pretty disappointing to say the least,” he said. “We’re big NFL fans. If nothing else, the lawsuit shows our displeasure with where we’re at and how we got there.”

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages from China, although Schuller and the Cohens, like other season ticket holders, can roll the tickets over to 2021.

“Defendants owed a duty of care to Plaintiffs, residents of a foreign nation, to reasonably manage and contain any infectious disease within their borders, to prevent the spread of such a disease to foreign nations, including the United States (and the state of Nevada),” Schuller wrote. “Defendants breached that duty given their actions and inactions in handling the COVID-19 outbreak. … The breach was the legal cause of Plaintiffs’ injuries, which include the loss of enjoyment in experiencing the Las Vegas Raiders’ 2020 inaugural season in person.”

Robert Murdock, a veteran Las Vegas civil attorney who handles cases involving catastrophic losses, agreed that Schuller’s lawsuit is unlikely to succeed.

“I really don’t feel that bad for Mr. Schuller, missing out on his entertainment,” Murdock said. “Instead, I really feel bad for the people who lost their jobs, are about to be evicted or are ill because of COVID. Perhaps Mr. Schuller would be better off representing some of those people.”

Contact David Ferrara at dferrara @reviewjournal.com or 702-380-1039. Follow @randompoker on Twitter.

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