From professional sports to college athletics to town travel teams, in Massachusetts we take our sports as serious fun. From the North Shore to Boston to Western MA we are fans and participants in every season, no matter the weather. Watching the Sox at historic Fenway Park (in continuous operation since 1912!),enjoying another Celtics or Bruins game or the Beanpot at the Garden or cheering on another Pat’s victory at Gillette, home to the 2014 Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots, the rowdy fun goes on all year long.
The sporting stadiums and Massachusetts music venues also host concerts, comedy shows, and even graduation ceremonies. Most times the events are good family fun with adequate safety measures and security forces for the occasional bad apple. But sometimes fan and audience behavior can be too rowdy, especially when beer and other alcohol are sold or served. Also, there are inherent risks from being in the stands. At Fenway the announcer will remind fans to be aware of bats or baseballs flying into the stands. An errant pass at a Celt’s game or a puck shot high and wide at a Bruins game can easily go into the stands and fans must be vigilant to watch out and protect themselves. Sometimes fan behavior can be so bad that other fans are put at risk or injured. In either case, the overly boisterous fan or the errant pass or shot, what is the duty of the team or the stadium to protect your safety and if you have been hurt, to fairly compensate you for your injuries?
Your rights as an injured fan or member of the audience may include a claim against the offending party. But do you also have rights to recover your losses against the venue or stadium owner itself?
A Massachusetts Court case looked at this question. In Foley v. Krueger, et al., Lawyers Weekly No. 12-014-15, a fan was injured after an altercation with another fan in the men’s bathroom during a Bruins game at the TD Garden. The Fan sought to bring a negligent security claim against the owner of TD Garden and its private security force. The injured fan argued that security measures were inadequate and that the response time to the altercation contributed to the severity of his injuries. The Garden owner defended itself arguing that it had done nothing wrong and was not liable for the fans injuries.
TD Garden then asked the Court to throw the law suit out as a matter of law saying it had no legal duty to protect the injured fan from a restroom fight with another fan. The trial Judge refused explaining: “[t]here can be no doubt that at a sports contest in which the game itself is inherently violent, where thousands of fans are fueled by the volatile mix of unbridled physicality and alcohol, fights at TD Garden are foreseeable”.
The defendants argued that their security measures were reasonable under the circumstances and therefore should not be liable for the harm that resulted. However the trial Judge declined to address whether the security measures undertaken by the defendants were adequate or reasonable under the stated circumstances instead he said that the case should go to “the collective wisdom of the jury as fact-finders.” The Court reasoned that it would be best for the jury to decide if the defendant’s security measures were adequate under the circumstances noting that no security personnel were positioned near or in the bathroom at the time of the altercation.
An appeal is likely and it will be interesting to see how this ends. Who is at fault and who may be legally responsible for a fan’s injuries is complicated. The owners of the stadiums and concert halls have lawyers to protect and defend them. You should speak with an experienced injury lawyer as soon as you can after any injury in order to fully protect your rights.