The family of Los Angeles Angels player Tyler Skaggs has filed two lawsuits against the club and two former employees, alleging negligence in his drug-related death two years ago, lawyers announced Tuesday morning.
Carly’s widow filed for Skaggs in Fort Worth, Texas, in the same county where Skaggs died, and Skaggs’ parents, Darrell Skags and Debbie Hetman, filed in Los Angeles. Both lawsuits were filed in state courts and they did not specify how much money they were seeking. Under state laws, the deadline for filing lawsuits is Thursday, the second anniversary of Skaggs’ death.
In addition to the Angels as an organizer, the family is suing former team communications director Eric Kay, who told authorities he regularly buys medicine for the Skaggs, and Kay’s former boss, Tim Mead. The crux of the lawsuit is that the Angels were negligent in allowing Kay, a longtime opiate abuser, access to the players and that Mead failed to properly supervise him.
As ESPN reported in 2019, Kay told DEA agents that he had also given oxycodone to five other players at Skaggs’ request. No other players have been publicly identified. The lawsuit alleges that the Angels had a culture that pushed players to play through injury and that the club knew or should have known about Skaggs’ use of opioids.
Skaggs, 27, was discovered dead in his hotel room in South Lake, Texas, on July 1, 2019, after choking on his vomiting. The toxicology report showed that Skaggs had oxycodone, fentanyl, and grain alcohol in his system. Kay, who left the Angels in late 2019, faces federal charges of distributing fentanyl and is due to stand trial in August in US District Court in the Northern District of Texas. He has pleaded not guilty.
“As you might expect, the decision to file these complaints has been very difficult for Tyler’s parents and wife,” Rusty Harden, attorney for the Skaggs family, said in a statement. “Nothing will alleviate the pain and grief caused by the loss of their only child, and for Carly, her husband and best friend. But they want to delve deeper into the circumstances surrounding Tyler’s tragic, sudden and completely avoidable death, and the holding of individuals and entities – including angels – responsible for business that contributed to it.
“As the federal jury indictment made so clear and painfully clear, had it not been for the fentanyl in the counterfeit pill provided by Angels employee Eric Kay, Tyler would have been alive today. And if the Angels had done a better job of supervising Eric Kay, Tyler would have been on alive today.”
When the US Attorney’s office announced Kay’s indictment last August, its statement read: “This was determined later, but with respect to fentanyl in [Skaggs’] He wasn’t going to die.” Skaggs’ autopsy showed he died of asphyxiation, but not of an overdose. When asked who made that decision about fentanyl and when, the US Attorney’s office said it could not comment. A source at the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office told Network ESPN, “It wasn’t us.” The source said he was unaware of any other autopsies that had been performed on Skaggs prior to his cremation.
The Skaggs family lawsuits cite a 2019 ESPN interview with Kay’s mother, Sandy, who said she had discussed the use of Skaggs’ drug with Mead just months before Skaggs’ death, while Eric Kay was hospitalized for an overdose. Sandy Kay told ESPN that while Camilla, Mead and Kay’s wife, was visiting him at the hospital, Kay received a text message from Skaggs seeking medication. Sandy Kay told ESPN that she saw the text messages to her son and told Meade that the team needed to step in and get Skaggs “off his back.” The presence of this text on April 22, 2019 may be crucial to confirm what Sandy Kay told ESPN.
According to two sources familiar with the investigation, Eric Kay told agents that he first mentioned using Skaggs for Mead in 2017.
Mead, who spent 22 years as the Angels communications director, denied hearing that Skaggs had been using drugs. “I’ve had a lot of conversations with Eric Kay about a lot of things, but opioids and Tyler Skaggs weren’t one of them,” Mead told ESPN in 2019.
Mead left The Angels in late April 2019, just a month before Skaggs’ death, to become president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. He resigned from the Hall of Fame two months ago.
Mead and the Angels representative were not immediately reached on Tuesday morning.
Kay’s attorney, Michael Molvita, told ESPN: “I, as always, respect the pain the Skaggs family is going through. The scourge of addiction has devastated many families. I also know that there are very few people who have access to all elements of the case. and I am one of them. Indeed, in terms of the nuts and bolts of their claim, good luck. There is also a principle called comparative and contributory negligence, and all I will say is that if I lived in a glass house I wouldn’t throw a stone at me.”
Kai told the detectives that he and Skaggs had come up with an arrangement in which Kai would get medicine for Skaggs and Skags would pay for it. He told investigators that Skaggs had introduced him to a California man who had given medications and that he and Skaggs regularly inhaled opioids together. ESPN reviewed Venmo transactions that allegedly occurred between Skaggs and Kay that showed a series of payments over two years ranging from $150 to $600.
As ESPN reported in 2019, Kay told DEA agents that just days before Skaggs’ fatal road trip, he illegally obtained six oxycodone tablets and gave three to a player, according to two sources familiar with his statement. But Kay told DEA agents that he doesn’t believe the pills he got for Skaggs are the same pills the bowler took on the day he died. Sources said Skaggs texted Kay the day the team left for Texas in search of more oxycodone, a request Kay told investigators he was unable to fulfill.
Kay told DEA investigators that hours before Skaggs’ death in July, Skaggs was in his room at the Southlake Hilton and texted Kay to visit him, according to sources familiar with the investigation. Sources said Kay also told agents that Skaggs sniffed three rows of crushed opioids in front of him. Sources said Kay told the agents he wasn’t taking any drugs even though Skaggs showed him to her, because he was on a drug that would have counteracted the effects. A source who saw Kay around 3 a.m. on July 1 said players were in and out of his room all night and that Skaggs had ordered “Jazzy Wings” from room service.
Lawyers for the Skags family said his parents sued in California because only his wife is allowed to claim damages in Texas. The lawsuit is expected to seek damages for their loss, along with income that the Skags may receive from a future contract.