Sunday, July 14, 2024

Kiss Guitar Tech Widow’s Wrongful Death Suit Survives Challenge

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The family of the Kiss guitar tech who died after contracting Covid during the band’s End of the Road World Tour won a round in their wrongful death lawsuit against the band, as the band’s motion to have the case tossed was overruled in court in Los Angeles on Friday.

Catherine Stueber — whose husband Fran served as the guitar tech for Paul Stanley for decades — first filed the lawsuit along with several members of her family against Stanley, Gene Simmons and Kiss’s longtime manager Doc McGee in October 2023, alleging negligence and wrongful death. Tour promoter Live Nation and hotel chain Marriott were named as defendants.

McGee, Simmons and Stanley challenged the complaint in a demurrer motion first filed in December, arguing that the defendants and Stueber’s family had already settled the matter in 2023 through a $250,000 Worker’s Compensation settlement. “Plaintiffs have already been compensated. This Complaint is an improper attempt by them to ‘double dip,’” the band and McGee’s attorney Barry Mallen wrote at the time.

“Clearly it was never the intent to settle a worker’s compensation lawsuit that constituted Plaintiffs’ exclusive remedy only to then have the same parties tum around and file a civil lawsuit in Superior Court against those persons who owned and operated the KISS’ touring entity that employed Decedent,” Mallen wrote in a separate filing last week.

Stueber’s attorneys had argued that the compensation claim was settled with the Kiss company itself, not with Stanley, Simmons and McGee. The company was not named as a defendant in the case.

The suit came over two years after Rolling Stone first published an investigation that detailed claims from several Kiss roadies who alleged that minimal Covid protocols contributed to Stueber’s death. The roadies claimed they weren’t regularly tested, and Stueber died in his hotel room in Michigan after quarantining after he’d fallen ill.

“I couldn’t believe how unsafe it was, and that we were still going,” one roadie told Rolling Stone at the time. “We’d been frustrated for weeks, and by the time Fran died, I just thought, ‘You have to be fucking kidding me.’”

The band denied the roadies’ allegations at the time and said the band’s protocols “met, but most often exceeded, federal, state, and local guidelines. But ultimately this is still a global pandemic and there is simply no foolproof way to tour without some element of risk.” The band also claimed to Rolling Stone that some members of the crew had faked their vaccine cards.

In the initial complaint, Stueber’s family alleged that “as a direct and proximate result of the dangerous condition created by Defendants, Decedent suffered fatal injuries and Plaintiffs suffered damages, including, but not limited to funeral and burial expenses, the permanent deprivation of the love, companionship, affection, solace, society, comfort, assistance, services and financial contributions, and moral support of Decedent.”

In a tentative ruling filed earlier this week, the judge presiding over the case wrote that the defendants did not “prove that an employment relationship existed between any of the defendants and Decedent, nor does it establish that any Defendant was released when Plaintiffs resolved a workers’ compensation action against The Kiss Company.”

“Defendants argue that Plaintiffs’ workers’ compensation case against The Kiss Company renders it such that Plaintiffs have already exercised their exclusive remedy for compensation from Defendants. Put simply, this is not clear from the complaint, as Plaintiffs allege no employment relationship between Defendants and Decedent,” the judge further wrote. “Further, whether Defendants were released by way of the Workers Compensation Appeals Board Order Approving Compromise and Release in Dependency Claim is not readily apparent. The face of the complaint indicates only that Decedent worked as a guitar technician for the rock band KISS, Defendant McGhee Entertainment, Inc. managed KISS, and Defendants had contracts with each other.”

In a hearing Friday, Mallen further stipulated that the worker’s compensation settlement had already settled the dispute, but Judge Lisa Sepe-Wiesenfeld stuck to her tentative ruling and overruled the demurrer, telling the defense to respond to the initial complaint within the next 20 days. With the demurrer unsuccessful, Mallen indicated that the defense would file a motion for summary judgement, which if granted would end the case.

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“We’re going to file a motion for summary judgement, this case has been settled,” he said.



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