Updated at 12:50 a.m. Sept. 6, 2012
Homeless surfboard-maker Murray “Moose” Lea told a civil jury Wednesday that Junior Seau “may have been the world’s greatest linebacker, but he was not the world’s greatest driver.”
Calling himself “just an innocent victim of a very tragic car accident,” Lea finally had his day in court more than 13 months after filing a personal injury suit against the Chargers legend, who committed suicide in May.
Lea acted as his own attorney, but spent much of the time on the witness stand in downtown San Diego Superior Court being prompted by Judge Gonzalo Curiel.
But Rayna Stephan—a Farmers Insurance Group lawyer representing the Seau estate—argued that Lea (pronounced LEE) had an existing injury and didn’t deserve damages for the Oct. 18, 2010, incident in which Seau drove his SUV off a Carlsbad cliff—allegedly forcing Lea to jump for his life.
In her 3 1/2-minute opening statement, Stephan told the eight-man, four-woman jury that there was “absolutely no contact. … It was basically a non-incident.”
In any case, she said, Lea’s injuries weren’t caused by Seau but could be traced to accidents going back decades.
Lea, 50, acknowledged his injury history—including a head-on auto collision he suffered 27 years ago and a puddle slip at the Del Mar racetrack several years before the Seau cliff plunge.
Despite giving rich descriptions of his treatment by several doctors and the nitty-gritty of his various hip flexor, back and groin muscle injuries, Lea produced no witnesses or documents to verify when the care was given or how much it cost.
(Curiel earlier had barred dozens of pages of evidence as hearsay or lacking in foundation—since Lea couldn’t produce a witness vouching for their accuracy.)
Neither could he show proof of lost income—telling the jury only that he earned $80 to $100 an hour making and repairing surfboards and dealing with being a “fragile old man.”
Lea said the October 2010 accident was witnessed by a man who told him: “My God, you almost just got killed”—but Lea was never able to find out who he was.
Another witness Lea had hoped to confront was Seau.
“Me and Junior were buddies,” Lea told the jury seated earlier Wednesday. “We were neighbors. I used to drive my big-ass white van by [his home] six days a week. He saw me on the cliff [after the accident]. He’s not here for me to question.”
Lea acknowledged during Stephan’s cross-examination that he didn’t start feeling pain until about four hours after the Seau plunge—and after he had called a radio station when it appeared rescue crews were slow in coming.
Lea likened his body to a coffee cup whose handle had broken off and glued back on—only to break again when exposed to hot water.
“I’m always screaming in pain,” he said.
Lea also sought damages for emotional distress, including what he termed “life threats” in the wake of news reports about his lawsuit—a claim made outside the jury’s presence.
However, the jury heard him say: “Everyone told me I should have been hit by that car. … I should have jumped on the hood of that car” as a way of proving Seau’s Cadillac Escalade was indeed only feet away as Lea alleges. “I had about a half-second to save my life.”
For her part, defense attorney Stephan went through a series of questions that led Lea to acknowledge he had paid his doctors nothing for injury treatment and that he made a similar lost-earnings claim against the Del Mar racetrack after an earlier injury.
Stephan had to rephrase her questions times as Lea repeatedly said: “Run that by me again.”
She also sought to depict him as a publicity hound, although Lea called himself a regular guest on local sports talk radio shows .
Before the jury filed in for the morning, Lea said of Seau and himself: “We’re the two most famous people in Oceanside, your honor.”
But Curiel admitted into evidence an aerial photo showing the tracks made by the Seau SUV with adjacent marks in the mud that Lea contends were made when he jumped out of the way.
A little before 4 p.m.—with no witnesses called by either side—both sides rested their cases.
Judge Curiel told the jury to return at 9 a.m. Thursday for closing arguments, which were capped at 30 minutes each.
He said the jury would receive the case at midmorning, and have to decide whether Seau’s estate was responsible for the injuries Lea said he suffered as well as the past and future financial losses involved.
Outside the Hall of Justice on Broadway, a Channel 10 crew awaited Lea’s departure. As Lea unchained his bike, he declined to answer any questions, saying he was under a gag order.
He hopped on the bike and headed west, with a female bypasser noting the TV trucks.
“Is he someone famous?” she asked.
Entering the downtown courtroom an hour late with the announcement, “Sorry, everybody. I’m starving, and I’m broke,” Murray “Moose” Lea began Day 2 of his civil trial involving the estate of Junior Seau.
Lea, the homeless Carlsbad man suing for $256,000 in San Diego Superior Court, told Judge Gonzalo Curiel he was thrown off a train Wednesday morning for lack of fare, saying: “I have $6 to my name.”
Curiel admonished Lea for inconveniencing more than 50 jurors who had reported at 9 a.m. in the personal-injury civil case.
“I do recognize somehow you were able to pay 24-Hour Fitness membership (dues) and cell phone service,” Curiel told Lea, again wearing sandals and a gray sportshirt worn outside his jeans.
Opening arguments were set for 1:30 p.m. after an eight-man, four-woman jury was seated, with two male alternates in Department 60.
Defense attorney Rayna Stephan used her challenges to excuse four jurors, and Lea used his to excuse two.
After the jury left for lunch, Lea and Stephan remained in the courtroom to hear Curiel describe what would come next and to hear an appeal from Channel 10 reporter Steve Fiorina, who wanted the judge to allow audio recording as well as videotaping of portions of the trial.
Curiel on Wednesday announced that the KGTV news crew would be allowed to record the trial, but not the opening or closing arguments, with video only.
Curiel also rejected a bid by Lea to call a Patch reporter as well as Fiorina as witnesses. Lea said Patch coverage of the case had led to death threats, which he wanted noted for the jury as part of the “grief hardship” he had endured since the October 2010 incident in which he says Seau nearly hit him with his SUV in driving off a Carlsbad Boulevard cliff.
“There’s a little bit of a cover-up,” Lea told the court with no jurors present.