Case Against Famed Magician David Copperfield Intensifies

Celebrity magician David Copperfield is being sued — and he can’t make his troubles disappear into thin air.

British tourist Gavin Cox, age 58, claims that he was seriously injured while taking part in one of Copperfield’s illusions, the famous “Lucky Number 13” or “The Thirteen” trick, during a Las Vegas stage performance in 2013. The plaintiff alleges that while he was with a group of volunteer audience members being hustled through an alleyway behind the MGM grand, he slipped and fell. Although the construction industry eliminated more than 40% of its work force between 2006 and 2011, there was reportedly evidence of a construction crew in that area, as Cox attests that he slipped on construction dust and debris.

As a result, his lawyer argues, Cox suffered a dislocated shoulder, a spinal injury, and a traumatic brain injury. Approximately 22% of slip and fall accidents result in more than 31 days away from work, but Cox’s subsequent chronic pain has forced him to spend at least $400,000 on medical care. In a report to CBS News, Cox’s lawyer claimed his bills topped $1.3 million.

It was an unexpected and painful development for Cox, explained his lawyer, Benedict Morelli, to CBS News: “What he wanted to do for his birthday was come to America, come to Las Vegas, go to the MGM Grand and see his idol perform.” He went on to say, “My client was put in a position where he was doing things that he didn’t know he was going to do and he was injured as a resultā€¦ you know, people just don’t trip and get as injured as he got.”

Cox is suing Copperfield for negligence in Las Vegas civil court. During Copperfield’s testimony, he was compelled to reveal the secrets behind the trick in question — a big deal for any magician. Although Copperfield’s lawyers tried to argue that disclosing the secrets behind the trick to the public would bring financial harm to the magician (who is currently worth around $800 million, according to Forbes), the judge disagreed and pointed out that thousands of people — illusion participants — already know how the trick is performed. Although the CDC reports that 17,000 slip and fall accidents occur every year, Copperfield’s lawyers claim that the trick has been performed with more than 55,000 different participants without any known injuries.

Copperfield has performed his famous Lucky 13 trick for more than a decade. As the 13 audience participants are brought onto a stage platform, giant curtains are flung over the platform to mask the audience members. Stagehands carrying flashlights quickly guide the volunteers offstage and through hidden passageways that snake around the MGM Grand. During this time, Copperfield talks to the audience and the participants reenter the theater through the back of the house. Copperfield then points to the back of the room and tells the audience to turn around, revealing the 13 who “disappeared.”

On the stand, Copperfield maintained that participants move at their own chosen speed during the illusion and that he himself had gone through the same alleyway earlier in the evening and had seen no dust or debris. When asked whether he would be at fault for a participant’s injury, Copperfield was somewhat evasive, saying that he could not answer a hypothetical question and that it would depend on whether he had directly done something wrong that caused the injury.

Since the case went public, two female illusion participants have come forward, maintaining that they had also been injured during the same trick when they were rushed through passageways. One of the women reportedly had multiple surgeries on her arm as a result. Another trick, in which Copperfield appears to walk through a spinning fan’s moving blades, caused his employee’s arm to break when it was caught in the fan.

Copperfield has since stopped performing his Lucky 13 trick. MGM Grand, which has also been named in the suit along with producer Backstage Employment and Referral and construction firm Team Construction Management, denies any wrongdoing.

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