Fisherman Sues Mexico Tour Operator

In November 2009, Portland real estate developer Thorndike “Dike” Dame got shot in the head by a robber while fishing on Lake Huites in Mexico.

Dame suffered horrible injuries and is seeking nearly $5 million, according to a lawsuit his attorney filed last week in Multnomah County Circuit Court against the company Dame paid for his fishing trip in the Mexican state of Sinaloa.

Those injuries included “fractures and bone loss of the jaw,” “partial severing of his tongue,” “loss of multiple teeth,” and a “neck infection which required surgical treatment.”

Dame’s attorney, Elden Rosenthal, is seeking general compensatory damages of $4 million for his client from Trophy Bass Lodge Inc., and DMF, Inc. and its owner David Fields. The lawsuit filed Feb. 3 by Rosenthal, who is well-known for his civil rights work, also seeks current and future medical expenses of $800,000 for Dame.

Contacted this morning, Fields say he knew Dame had been shot but was unaware of the lawsuit.

“Wow,” Fields said when told of the lawsuit details. “That’s the first I’ve heard of it.”

Link to article.

Thorndike Dame

A keen fisherman, the 72-year-old Dame traveled to Lake Huites in the Mexican state of Sinaloa for a 10-day bass fishing trip with another Portland man, Chip Laizure. Laizure says the first seven days of fishing at the lake — which is a four-hour drive from the nearest airport — were uneventful.

Laizure says that all changed at about 3:30 pm on Nov. 14. The two Portlanders and their guide were fishing from a bass boat when Laizure heard an unusual sound and one he’ll never forget — a large caliber bullet ripping through Dame’s cheek.

The first announcement of anything going on was hearing the bullet strike Dike’s face,” Laizure says.

Only as Dame fell to the deck of of the bass boat, did Laizure hear the sound of the actual gunshot. As he tried to figure out what was happening, he then noticed a small boat nearby, speeding toward his boat.

“These guys are racing towards us and yelling ‘kneel down’ and ‘get our hands up.’ They board the boat and rob us,” Laizure recalled. “Meanwhile, Dike is bleeding and gasping for air. We tried to position his head so to keep his airway open.”

Two Mexican men boarded the bass boat, one holding a pistol and one holding a rifle with a large magazine attached. After stripping the Americans and their guide of valuables, the robbers demanded to be taken to the remote end of the lake, about 15 minutes away.

Laizure says he thought he, Dame and the guide were dead men.

“I pretty much felt like that was going to be the end,” Laizure says. “I felt I wasn’t going to see my wife and children ever again.”

Laizure says as he tried to think of a way to save his skin, he asked the robbers if he could use his hat to put pressure on Dame’s wound. (He says the bullet entered Dame’s left cheek, tearing a three- or four-inch wound, exited his right jaw and then went back into his right shoulder).

The robbers allowed him to tend to Dame. Laizure says that gesture signaled to him and his guide that they might not be killed after all. They took the robbers to the end of the lake, where Laizure says the two jumped off the boat and disappeared into a jungle.

That left the fishing party more than half an hour from their lodge, with Dame losing blood rapidly. They sped back to the dock and loaded Dame into the back of a pickup for a drive to the nearest clinic, an hour and a half away over poorly-maintained dirt roads.

Dame had brought a satellite phone with him from Portland. And Laizure asked lodge personnel to try to locate an ambulance to meet them as they drove toward a clinic in the town of Choix. As they drove, Laizure tried unsuccessfully to reach his wife in Portland in the hope that she could help identify medical and logistical resources. When that failed, Dame by then barely conscious, was able to show Laizure the cell phone number for Homer Williams by touching his fingers to the keypad.

Laizure called Williams, who notified Dame’s family and began frantically trying to make arrangements to get help.

Laizure and Dame arrived in Choix after dark. They located an ambulance but it was not functional. They found a clinic, where staff bandaged Dame’s wound and started him on IV fluids.

The men then continued to the nearest city with a hospital, Los Mochis. On better roads now, they sped toward help with a cook from the lodge holding the IV line and Laizure keeping pressure on the gunshot wound.

“It was cold in the back of the pick-up so I tried to hold a blanket on Dike,” Laizure says.

At the town of El Forte, an ambulance met them and transported Dame to Fatima Hospital in the city of Los Mochis. They arrived there at about 9 pm, nearly six hours after Dame got shot. “If you saw all the blood he lost in the boat and in the truck, you would not believe it,” Laizure says.

“He spent the next couple of hours in surgery and they were able to stablize him,” Laizure adds.

[Fulano’s comment: This lawsuit is a potential game changer for the way American tour operators can promote Mexico. There is little case law concerning a travel agent’s duty to warn clients of any unusual or unreasonable hazards at destinations to which they are traveling.

Courts have split on the issue, with U.S. travel agents or tour operators being held liable for assaults on customers in some cases and not liable in others. Tour operators might be chilled when they learn they are exposing themselves to personal liability from booking anyone on a trip to Mexico if Fishin’ Expeditions could be held liable for Dame’s injuries without evidence that Lake Huites, specifically, was a “known, high crime area.”

In any event, it now should become evident why vacation cruise ships are pulling out of known high crime ports in Mexico, like Acapulco and Mazatlan. There is just too much potential legal liability to their passengers. It is also evident why other destinations in Mexico are fighting so hard to not be known as a high crime area.]