Sports Stadium Injuries: Who is Liable?

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It happened eight years ago, but many of us remember opening day at Dodgers Stadium in 2011. Two men beat San Francisco Giants fan Brian Stow so severely he suffered brain damage and spent nine months in a medically induced coma.

 

Incidents like Stow's beating don't happen often, but injuries in sports stadiums do. If a fan gets hit by a foul ball or gets caught in a fight, who's responsible?

 

Stow sued the Dodgers and their former owner, Frank McCourt, for negligence due to insufficient security and lighting. The jury sided with Stow and awarded him $17.9 million, which was later appealed and settled.

 

Foul Balls

In a more common situation--a knock by a stray ball or puck, for example--the stadium owner usually has its bases covered. On the back of the ticket, you'll likely see a liability waiver in very small print. This language is the venue's way of protecting itself from liability in the event of injuries to fans that take place in the stadium. The waiver applies in many cases. However, there are exceptions.

 

The stadium is supposed to make reasonable efforts to minimize injury risk to ticketholders. Typical safety measures include netting to catch foul balls and plexiglass barriers to shield fans from hockey pucks.

 

If a stadium fails to maintain that netting, and a foul ball flies through a hole and hits a spectator, the spectator may have a case. If you're sitting behind left field, in open seating where there is no netting, the stadium owner may not be liable. Under the law, you assume the risk of injury by choosing to sit in those seats.

 

Fights and Intoxication

What if a fight breaks out next to your seat or you get mugged in the parking lot? You may have a case if the stadium did not provide any or adequate security or if half the lights were out in the parking lot.

 

If the stadium sells alcohol, the stadium owner may be liable for injuries--in certain circumstances. Under the Dram Shop Act, which applies to establishments that serve alcohol, if the stadium sells alcohol to a ticketholder, and that ticketholder leaves the stadium intoxicated and causes a car crash, the stadium is not liable for injuries sustained in the crash.

 

There is an exception: if the stadium sells alcohol "to any obviously intoxicated minor," the stadium can be held liable if alcohol played a role in injuries to the minor or to someone else.

 

Other sports stadium incidents can trigger a lawsuit. Slip and trip and falls, injuries on escalators or elevators, and random unusual injuries. For example, falling ice injured seven fans at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas during a football game.

 

After Stow's assault, Dodgers Stadium and other stadiums nationwide ramped up security measures. Stow, despite ongoing medical issues, speaks at schools and to civic groups about sports fan violence and bullying.

 

If you get injured during a sporting event, get medical attention right away. If you suspect (even if you're not sure) the stadium didn't do its job to keep you safe, call our office for a consultation.

 

Photo courtesy of Flickr

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David G. Smith, Attorney At Law
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Oakland, CA 94612

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