A Maryland fan asked us to check with attorneys to see what would happen if someone tried to sue over fan behavior in Comcast.Â Here's one of the best answers we got., plus two more that came later in response.
I thought I'd throw my .02 cents in with the question of whether I'd take a case vs. Maryland were someone to be injured by the "hooligans" that seems to\dominate the Comcast center and my unequivocal answer is yes.
The theory would be of negligence, basically that U of MD was negligent in protecting the people at the Comcast center from the said hooligans. The elements of Negligence are as follows:
- A Duty Owed,
- A Breach of Said Duty,
- Said Breach CAUSING the damages and
- Actual Damages.
Essentially, prove these 4 elements and you've made them liable.
The duty owed is the general duty to protect or keep safe anyone who purchases a ticket. Their* breach of this duty would be fairly easy to prove given the past history of events and limited (if any) new policies to prevent further occurences of violence against innocent game-watchers. Third the causation again speaks for itself.. their history of issues and lack of remedial measures make these elements easier than most to prove. Finally, there must be actual damages, i.e. someone has to be hurt from the assault, etc., and have actual damages that they are seeking renumeration for.
You can see the elements of the case would be hypothetically fairly easy to prove, and that's presuming you went to a judge, if you took it to a jury, I think given these facts you'd have an even better case and potentially gain an even higher payoff in the end.
*I say "Their" breach because any good attorney worth his salt in this case will sue not only the U of MD but also the ownership group of the Comcast Center as well as any independent security agency. Deeper pockets to collect from. And last but ABSOLUTELY not least is the potential for Punitive Damages.
Punitive damages or additional damages used to "punish" those found liable only come into play when GROSS Negligence can be proven. I think you can make a strong argument based on the history at the Comcast center (and being a history that's been widely publicized) without any remedial measures or protections to prevent that history from happening again, opens them up to potentially being found grossly negligent (especially by a jury), and thus not only liable for regular actual damages and pain and suffering, but also punitive damages, the extent of which only a jury would know.
To sum it up, I'd take the case and not bat an eyelash!
FWIW: Chip has the basics right, but, as a state University, Maryland almost certainly enjoys some limited immunity. Most state actors have a degree of limited immunity, which raises the degree of fault required to sue from negligence to, at a minimum, gross negligence and perhaps even intentional actions.
That said, I would still at least investigate the case as arguably Maryland has had notice of past behavior problems and the question would be whether Maryland willfully ignored those problems or took corrective actions (even if those actions were not ultimately successful).
I read your reprint of Chip's take on the potential legal liability of the owners and operators of the Comcast center for the hooliganism and violence occasionally visited upon the visiting fans. He has provided a good B+ "Torts" exam answer. Before he takes the case he might wish to consider the unknowns in your question: 1) look at the ticket, as part of his purchase did the victim agree to hold harmless and release the owner/operator for the actions of third parties? (In some states these releases are still valid.) 2) is this a state that allows the owner/operator to avoid or diminish liability by pleading the affirmative defense of the intentional or criminal act of a third party? 3) Did the victim somehow assume the risk? Doubtful and distasteful. 4) perhaps most importantly - can he justify to his partners spending firm resources on this case? This is the callous calculus that practicing lawyers must engage in before taking any case. Your hypothetical scenario mentions a full water bottle - that sure seems like a bad experience - but you don't provide any hypothetical injuries. Does she have permanent physical injuries? Can she demonstrate economic damages- medical bills, lost wages, earning opportunity? What is the legal and philosophical climate in this jurisdiction for the award of non-economic damages - pain and suffering, mental anguish and emotional distress? As for punitive damages - you might find that claim off-putting to a jury. Be careful.
Finally, to the Maryland student who originally asked the question: Sure, there are lots of lawyers who would take this case. They might even be successful. The result might be that five years from now you get to go watch the Terrapins play the visiting Blue Devils under vastly changed circumstances. Your ticket price has quadrupled because the owner needs to pay its insurance premiums. Thirsty? You have to pay fifteen dollars for a paper cup of luke warm soda (ice can be thrown) and a bag of chips (someone might throw that hot-dog and don't get me started on peanut allergies). The crowd is eerily quiet since they have all purchased (just $12.95) headphones so that they can follow the action on the Jumbo ScoreTron 3000 hanging above center court. Fat cat donors (ironically including your successful lawyer) seated around the Court are the only "fans" with a direct view of the game action as the rest of you fans are separated from the action by a thirty foot wall of plexiglass. Don't you wish now that, five years ago, when you saw that idiot throw the water bottle you had pointed him out to security so that they could escort him off the premises before things got out of control?
It's great to see that people are curious about the law, and the idea of a lawsuit in the case where a fan get injured at a Maryland game is something that your site visitors have probably thought about. Yet, I would argue that you need to do a bit better than simply publishing someone's response like you did with Chip.
Chip's response was a text book description of how to analyze a tort claim based on negligence; except that it completely left out an analysis of what defenses might be available to defendants in the proposed claim. I don't know Maryland law, so I can't speak to claims in that State; but in California, presuming that each ticket has a printed disclaimer as is customary in today's world, there would be at least two potential defenses that could stop any claim in its tracks. First, and most important, is the doctrine of Assumption of Risk. This is a doctrine that provides that an individual can knowingly waive their rights to make a negligence claim. Thus, a skier who hits a snowcat left in the middle of a run is barred from suing the ski mountain based on the doctrine. This could very well be true for attendees at basketball games (I know the tickets I get all have disclaimers on the back, which is sufficient in California to assert the doctrine.)
If you wanted to sue the University, you'd also have to deal with the concept of Sovereign Immunity. Just ask Mike Leach about that one.
Without knowing all the facts and analyzing them completely, I don't know what additional defenses the University might raise.
West Coast Duke Fan
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