A hotel fight. One guy gets a bloody nose, a few bumps and bruises.
No big deal - unless the guy on the receiving end happens to be Evel Knievel.
For more than four years, the former motorcycle daredevil has pursued millions of dollars in damages stemming from an alleged scuffle with ex-pal Clarence “Cip” Paulsen III, a confessed cocaine trafficker.
But Knievel, the 56-year-old former “King of the Stuntmen,” isn’t suing Paulsen.
He’s taking aim at Spokane’s Ridpath Hotel and its parent chain, WestCoast Hotels Inc., because a desk clerk gave Paulsen the key to Knievel’s 10th-floor deluxe room on Sept. 11, 1989.
“I treasure my privacy,” Knievel says in court documents.
The trial, featuring civil claims of assault and invasion of privacy, starts Monday in Spokane County Superior Court. Testimony is expected to last a week.
According to Knievel, Paulsen used the spare key that night to barge into Room 1005, where he saw his ex-girlfriend in Knievel’s bed.
Knievel says he was consoling the woman, but Paulsen became incensed and lunged at him.
The two traded punches for a few minutes until Knievel said he threatened to grab his gun. Paulsen then made a hasty exit.
Paulsen, who is being sued by the hotel in an attempt to spread the liability, tells a different story.
He says he was out drinking with Knievel and the woman earlier that night.
Paulsen says he later went up to Knievel’s room. He unlocked the door, saw his friend in bed with the woman, snickered and left. No fight.
Even if the jury believes blows were exchanged, the hotel’s lawyer, Michael Nelson, is prepared to argue that Knievel’s injuries were minor.
Potential claims for damages once topped $7 million, according to court records.
The Las Vegas resident said he was suffering from a life-threatening blood-chemistry imbalance triggered by the fight, as well as psychological trauma and insomnia. The injuries, he says, caused him to lose commercial endorsements and business deals in Las Vegas and Scottsdale, Ariz.
Knievel, who once described himself as a “professional life-risker,” also claims he feared for his life after the incident, forcing him to beef up security during his travels.
Knievel has boasted of breaking bones 400 times during his career. Spectacular motorcycle crashes left him with steel rods in both arms, a steel plate in a hip and steel pins in his left leg.
Soon after filing the Ridpath lawsuit, his attorney, George Diana of Spokane, promised to have medical experts from around the country testify for Knievel.
Those promises fizzled, however, prompting Judge Harold Clarke to toss out big-money medical claims earlier this week.
The case going to trial is little more than a simple lawsuit over a hotel guest’s invaded privacy.
Diana says the desk clerk erred in handing Paulsen the room key - a fact the hotel does not dispute.
Nelson, however, is prepared to argue that Paulsen was a fixture around the hotel and known to be pals with Knievel.
At the request of lawyers, the jailed Paulsen won’t testify in person during the trial. His testimony will be videotaped and played to the jury.
“Nobody wants to make a circus out of this thing,” says Paulsen’s attorney, Pat Stiley.
Paulsen, the 35-year-old heir to a mining and real estate fortune, recently confessed his leadership role in a Spokane cocaine ring.
Facing an 11-year prison sentence, he admits involvement in distributing up to 110 pounds of cocaine with a wholesale value of at least $1 million.
Citing concerns about picking an impartial jury, Diana refuses to discuss the lawsuit, filed in June 1990.
“Frankly, I’d just like to keep a lid on it. Treat it like an ordinary case,” he says.
Knievel is no stranger to a courtroom.
Last October, he was arrested on suspicion of beating up his girlfriend in a Sunnyvale, Calif., motel room. He was charged instead with being an ex-felon in possession of weapons after police found a small arsenal in his sports car.
In 1977, Knievel was convicted of beating a former television executive with a baseball bat. He spent six months in jail, and was ordered to pay the victim $12.7 million in damages, which he hasn’t paid.
With interest, lawyers say the amount owed now tops $23 million.
Dogged by longtime problems with the Internal Revenue Service, Knievel retired in 1981 before fulfilling his dream of flying across the Grand Canyon on a jet-powered motorcycle.
His career peaked in 1974, when he tried to ride his SkyCycle across Idaho’s Snake River Canyon. The rocket’s chute opened prematurely and the vehicle and Knievel floated into the river. He reportedly earned $1.8 million for the highly publicized fiasco.
MEMO: This sidebar ran with story: EVEL VS. CIP Evel Knievel, left, contends Clarence (Cip) Paulsen, right, barged into Knievel’s room at the Ridpath Hotel and started a fistfight while Paulsen’s ex-girlfriend lay in bed. Legal action: Knievel is suing the Ridpath and its parent chain, WestCoast Hotels Inc., saying Paulsen shouldn’t have been given the key to his room. The Ridpath, in turn, is suing Paulsen. Paulsen’s side: He contends the fight never took place.