Doctors testify about Bryan Stow’s loss of intellectual capacity

Bryan Stow heads to the courthouse in Los Angeles. Doctors say the former paramedic can process information only at a superficial level after being beaten at a Dodgers game.
Bryan Stow heads to the courthouse in Los Angeles. Doctors say the former paramedic can process information only at a superficial level after being beaten at a Dodgers game.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Before his head cracked against pavement, before the foot kicked his head, before surgeons removed part of his skull, before the seizures, the blood clots, the hemorrhaging — Bryan Stow, according to an expert, had the brain function of a college-educated man.

But now his IQ rests at about 75, a figure that borders on mental disability, Dr. Jeffrey Schaeffer said Wednesday in the civil trial that accuses the Los Angeles Dodgers and former owner Frank McCourt of negligence in the attack on Stow.

The clinical psychologist hired by the plaintiffs evaluated Stow last year and said that he found the former paramedic had suffered “a severe loss of general intellectual capacity” and can now process information only at a superficial level.


Stow has limited problem-solving skills, a below-average vocabulary and struggles to name objects, such as animals, Schaeffer said. “He has the basic capacity to recognize simple words. What he can’t do is comprehend the meaning of the words and sentences.”

Schaeffer recommended that Stow live in a non-institutional environment that would allow him some latitude. He pointed out that the 45-year-old still has a wry sense of humor.

“He appreciates people, he recognizes his family and others around him, he wants to go places,” Schaeffer said. “He can initiate, at times, things that he wants to do. So he still deserves the same freedoms that he once had.... We want to preserve as much of the person he was before his injury.”

Since the trial began May 27, multiple medical experts have addressed Stow’s cognitive and physical disabilities and testified that a home environment with 24-hour care would be best for Stow. Should the jury find the Dodgers liable in Stow’s March 2011 beating, it would need to determine the amount of damages to be awarded to Stow and his two children. His attorneys have advocated for about $50 million, which would include past and future medical care, pain and suffering and punitive damages.

On the first day of testimony, Stow’s mother testified that her son wears a catheter at night and wears adult diapers in case of accidents. He relies on a walker around the house but is dependent on a wheelchair when outside. His short-term memory is warped, and he can’t cook or drive. A long list of medications addresses his ailments that include pain, seizures, lethargy and sleep apnea. Bone growth in his joints require orthopedic surgery.

A doctor specializing in neuropsychiatry testified the following day that Stow has no memory of his assault and that he hopes to return to being a paramedic.

“His insight into himself is impaired,” Dr. Lester Zackler said. “He doesn’t see himself, he doesn’t remember in a complete sense how impaired he is.”

Zackler said Stow suffers from anosognosia — a lack of self-awareness — and that the ultimate goal of his therapy should be “to improve his quality of life and restore as much dignity as possible.”

A different physician later testified that in addition to an all-day caregiving service, Stow requires cognitive, physical, occupational and speech therapies and that things would become even more difficult for him as he ages.

“I would expect it to be a roller-coaster ride,” Dr. David Patterson said about Stow’s future capabilities. “I think his cognitive function is going to go up and down, but it’s not going to change to a significant degree to where he’s going to become independent.”

The defense has attempted to chip away at the plaintiffs’ experts’ credentials and credibility, asking about their testimony fees, which can be thousands of dollars a day. Attorneys have also questioned whether experts are diminishing Stow’s capabilities, reminding them that he can tell jokes, utilizes a walker, enjoys going to the movies and operates Lumosity, a brain training program developed by neuroscientists.

On Wednesday, a neurologist said although Stow enjoyed movies, he was unable to recall them in detail the next day. Stow, Dr. Harris Fisk said, is literally forced to live in the moment.

Fisk also mentioned Stow’s parents, Dave and Ann, who now care for their son and have attended every day of the trial. “They’ve done a heroic job, but they’re 70 and 66,” he said. “They’ve assumed a role that for most people would be too much.”