When attending a sports event at an arena, stadium or racetrack, one assumes it will be an enjoyable and safe experience. It should also be assumed that there are spectator risks involved that are inherent with the nature of each sport. This is called “assumption of risk” and it is the safety net that protects sports teams and venue owners from injury claims by fans.
Sports tickets contain fine print on the back, which rarely gets read, warning ticket holders that the team or facility will not be responsible for injuries by an occurrence which is connected to the sport. In addition, signs will warn of flying balls or pucks and announcers will ask fans to keep a head up. It is expected the fans to see the risk of injuries on the field, rink or track, as well as in the stands.
A Reasonably Foreseeable Occurrence
For sports fans waiving their right to sue for an injury, the key words are “reasonably foreseeable.”
A player landing in the front row on a basketball court, a hockey puck clearing the glass barrier or a broken bat landing in the stands are reasonably foreseeable occurrences. Most courts will dismiss an injury claim based on the doctrine of “assumption of risk.” That is unless the injury was not foreseeable or negligence was demonstrated by the facility/team.
A team, player, property manager or facility may be held legally responsible when their negligence caused or contributed to the injury of a spectator.
When a fan is seated behind home plate at a professional baseball game, they should not have to assume that the net won’t stop a 90-mph foul tip. If the nets mesh allows the ball through because it was never inspected for tears, assumption of risk would not apply.
The team and/or the facility manager have a responsibility to provide and maintain a safe environment for fans. Any identifiable hazards such as loose stairs or weak railings should be repaired within a reasonable time frame. Security must be provided to assure the safety of spectators in the facility and also in the parking lots and surrounding grounds.
The Question of Security
Anyone who lives in California, is at least partly familiar with the high-profile case of Brian Stow, who received debilitating injuries after being beaten following a game in Dodgers Stadium in 2011. In 2014 a jury awarded Mr. Stow $18 million in damages, finding that the Dodgers ownership failed to provide adequate security and lighting in and around the stadium. The damages included a large share of past and future medical bills. The assumption of risk would not be applicable in this kind of a claim. No one should expect to be attacked inside or outside of a public venue.
Some Types of Non-Foreseeable Injuries
Spectator injuries can occur at sports events for any of the following circumstances which may be considered non-foreseeable:
· Slip and fall – Wet floors from cleaning, spills, weather, and other situations may cause a slip and fall hazard. Maintenance must take reasonable steps to prevent these accidents from happening.
· Thrown or dropped objects – An object from an upper deck striking a person below could cause serious injury. Was the object part of the structure that was loose? Did a person, who was over served alcohol, throw the object?
· Improper maintenance or faulty construction – Was a fall caused by a loose railing? Was an escalator lacking the required markings?
· Assault and rape – Was the parking lot lighted improperly? Was their inadequate security provided? Was alcohol promotion a contributing factor?
· Pedestrian Injuries – Was there proper signage for crosswalks? Was there adequate traffic control?
If You Are Injured at a Professional Sporting Event
Any accident at a sporting event should be reported immediately to a supervisor or manager at the facility. If none is available, report the accident to anyone who works there. Be certain that all the details are accurately recorded. Take pictures if possible. Ask for a copy of any report for your own records. Gather the names and contact information of any witnesses.
Seek medical attention immediately and be certain that your medical care provider keeps a detailed report of the incident. Document your injuries with pictures. Remember that the defendant’s insurance company and lawyer will try to claim that your injuries happened before or after the reported incident.
If you suffered even mildly severe injuries, seek the counsel of an experienced premise liability attorney. Do not try to handle the case yourself. Filing a lawsuit against a professional sports team, a stadium owner or management company means facing off against a high-powered law firm. Seek only the best in legal representation for your case. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones.