Football is a way of life in Ohio, with storied rivalries, iconic coaches, and 7 OSU Heisman Trophy winners! More than 100,000 fans watch the Buckeyes play live at the “Horseshoe” each home game. Paul Brown Stadium, home of the Cincinnati Bengals, can seat 65,515. FirstEnergy Stadium can host 67,000 Cleveland Browns enthusiasts.
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It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt, and accidents are bound to happen given these large numbers of sports buffs. You might slip on a spilled beer, or be assaulted by an intoxicated Michigan fan. You might be injured when a poorly maintained handrail gives way, or by pyrotechnics, or flame-related effects launched from the field. Who is responsible for stadium accidents? The answer comes down to Premises Liability.
What Is Premises Liability?
If you’re injured at the Horseshoe while watching your beloved Buckeyes play, the applicable legal concept is called Premises Liability. Like personal injury cases, premises liability is a negligence action. To prevail, you must prove:
- The stadium owner had a responsibility to keep you safe.
- The stadium owner breached that duty.
- The stadium owner’s breach was the cause of your injury.
An expert tip from Doug Mann
In Ohio, the level of care owed to you by a property owner depends upon your status. If you are an invitee, meaning you are on someone’s property for a purpose that benefits the property owner, the owner must exercise reasonable care in discovering dangerous defects, and either correct these defects or warn you about them.
Having bought a Browns ticket hoping for another winning season, you would be an invitee. (The other statuses are licensee and trespasser. A property owner has a lesser duty of care to these two groups.)
Negligence and Reasonable Care
In order to prevail in a lawsuit, you need to show that he stadium owner “dropped the ball” by failing to make the stadium reasonably safe.
Not every accident or injury is the result of negligence, or a lack of reasonable care. Reasonable care requires the stadium owner to use a level of diligence that a “reasonable person” would exercise in order to learn about dangerous conditions and to abate them.
If the owner was found to have exercised reasonable care, that ends the legal inquiry. If the owner was deemed to be negligent, the law offers the premises owner two justifications from negligence:
- Contributory or comparative negligence by the plaintiff in failing to exercise reasonable care for his own safety, and
- Assumption of Risk, which is based on the notion that the plaintiff assented to the stadium owner’s conduct.
As to the first, by statute Ohio recognizes comparative negligence, and allows a reduction in money damages to the extent that your injuries are your own fault.
As to assumption of risk, the court will determine whether you assented to the owner’s conduct. The court will review the disclaimer language on the back of the ticket, and look at other factors, such as signage warning about hazards in and around the premises.
How Premises Liability Actually Works for Stadium Injuries
Now that you understand the basics of Premises Liability law, let’s look at three examples.
The game is over and, as you head down the bleachers to exit, you’re texting your buddy that the Bengals are now first place in the AFC! You’re so excited you’re not paying attention to where you’re going and you trip and fall, breaking your ankle.
There was no obstacle in your way and no hidden danger such as a slippery surface. Unless there are some other relevant facts, you’re responsible for your own injury here.
Spectator violence is not uncommon at sporting events. Thousands of worked-up fans drinking beer often adds up to trouble. Let’s assume you’re sitting quietly in your seat enjoying the Browns-Steelers half-time show with your kids. This is a historic rivalry since 1950 and, not unexpectedly, a fight breaks out. Soon, a broken beer bottle hits you in the face, causing a deep laceration. Is the stadium owner liable?
Premises Liability requires the stadium owner to provide reasonable care to avoid these types of incidents. Spectator violence injuries are often the result of inadequate barriers between team fans or an inadequate or poorly trained security force. It’s likely the stadium owner would be found not to have exercised reasonable care for your safety. And the facts here don’t show that you contributed to your injury, or assumed the risk of this type of injury. It’s likely, therefore, that the stadium owner would be found negligent.
What if you’re injured by faulty pre-game pyrotechnics that sent debris and fireworks projectiles flying? You likely wouldn’t have been hurt if you’d listened to the security guards and heeded warnings on the Jumbotron to stay in your seat, but you wanted to get closer to the action, entering a zone of safety around the fireworks display. There will be many cases, as here, where the fault is not clear cut and both parties will be likely to have some liability.
Compensation for Injuries
If you incurred injuries while at a football stadium and win your case, you may receive compensation for:
- Medical expenses
- Loss of income
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Loss of consortium
A more detailed explanation of how your damages will be calculated can be found here.
Premises Liability is a complicated legal issue with many different rules and nuances. It’s also highly fact specific. Whether you will prevail depends upon whether the stadium owner breached a duty to you, and whether you will be deemed to have contributed to your own injury, or otherwise assumed the risk of harm. Don’t delay in contacting us if you think you have a claim. Ohio’s statute of limitations has a limited window of time during which you must file.
When in doubt, contact an experienced attorney to get an opinion. Our premises liability attorneys offer free consultations, and if you do have a case, you won’t pay for it unless you win.
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