A lawsuit against the Los Angeles Dodgers will test the law of spectator sports injuries. The family of San Francisco Giants fan Brian Stow is suing the Dodgers organization after Stow was beaten and gravely injured in the Dodgers Stadium parking lot following a game there.
The lawsuit says the Dodgers failed to provide reasonable security to protect Stow. It blames the failure on cutbacks to security made because Dodgers owner Frank McCourt is in dire financial shape. It also blames a “half-off” beer promotion at the game. Fan against fan violence is not unknown in sports, big or small. It’s also not new at Dodger Stadium. Considering this, it looks like a jury will decide whether the Dodgers’ precautions and response were adequate or lacking.
It’s springtime and you were lucky enough to get a great seat on opening day at the ballpark. As you turn to order a hot dog from the vendor, a line drive foul ball is headed right at you and fractures your jaw. You spend the night in the emergency room. You are in terrible pain, you can’t eat, and you miss a few weeks of work. Topping it off, you missed the game. Can you sue?
Enter at Your Own Risk
Owners and operators of sporting venues and events are well aware of the risk of injury to spectators. It’s the law of averages. With all the foul balls and hockey pucks that fly into the stands, someone is bound to be hit sooner or later.
In order to avoid liability, tickets to sporting events often contain warnings advising spectators that the facility won’t be responsible if a spectator is injured at the sporting event. In addition, warning signs are generally posted and the announcer usually reminds the fans to be aware of wayward balls.
A spectator who attends a sporting event, whether it’s a major league baseball game or a child’s lacrosse game, is presumed to know there is a risk of being hit by a flying object. So, when you take that chance, you are waiving your right to sue for any injuries that result.
This waiver is based on the legal doctrine known as assumption of risk, and most courts will dismiss a personal injury lawsuit seeking damages for injuries sustained at a sporting event.
Of course, whenever there is a rule, there is always an exception. If the owners of the sports facility didn’t take adequate precautions to protect the fans, they may be liable for injuries sustained as a result of their negligence.
For example, baseball stadiums place a protective screen behind home plate because most foul balls are hit in this area. The screen protects the fans sitting near home plate who have less time to react. If there is a large hole in the screen that allows a ball to get through and injure a spectator, the owners of the facility may be liable if they were aware of the hole and negligently failed to repair it.
Also, if you are injured as a result of an incident that is not foreseeable, i.e., not one that a reasonable person would expect to occur at a sporting event, you may also be able to sue. For example, you are at a basketball game and a fight breaks out among the players that spills over into the seats. During the melee, you are struck by one of the players and injured. This isn’t an injury that could have been anticipated and you may be able to sue.
Of course, the sports facility must also make sure that the premises are safely maintained; there are no hazardous conditions, such as broken stairs and loose railings; and there is adequate security to handle the size of the crowd.
If you are injured at a sporting event, you should file an incident report with the facility and make sure the details are accurately recorded in the report. Ask for a copy of the report for your file. If there were witnesses to the incident, try and obtain their names and contact information, and include this information in the report.
You should also seek immediate medical treatment for your injuries and make sure your medical provider records the details of the incident in your medical report. Take pictures to document your injuries.
You could recover the cost of your medical bills, out-of-pocket costs, lost wages, and compensation for the pain and suffering you endured due to your injury. The goal in awarding damages is to try and return you to the position you would have been in if you had not been injured in the first place, not to mention giving you the ability to enjoy another event.
Questions for Your Attorney
- What if a sporting event is held in a public place without tickets? Do spectators assume the risk of watching sporting events if there are only warning signs at a facility?
- How difficult is it to show that a facility owner or operator needed more protective and preventative measures for spectators, like greater coverage for nets at a ballpark?
- In cases where bystanders are injured in a fight among fans, do they sue and do they recover damages from the fighting fans, security companies or the facility owners?