Spectator Injuries at Sporting Events: Can These Cases Be Won?

Fans at sports game deserve to have fun without worrying about spectator injuries. Unfortunately, spectators may be struck by a hard-hit ball or hockey puck and suffer from personal injuries. And in many instances, these types of lawsuits are tough to win. However, individuals in this situation still have rights and may pursue a successful lawsuit.

Sports Spectator Injuries Are Dangerous

Sports stadiums are designed for maximum spectator safety, and incidents rarely occur at most facilities. However, a study by the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that between 2000 and 2018, a total of 181 spectator injuries or 10 every year occurred at professional events.

Troublingly, these statistics tracked only professional sports. The extent of these injuries varied wildly depending on the sport. For example, The Globe and Mail reported that hockey fans were prone to broken bones, shattered teeth, injured eyes, and even brain injuries.

Even worse, of the 181 injuries related to professional sports reported in the study above, 62 — or over one-third — were fatal. So why are there very few cases of individuals pursuing and winning spectator injury lawsuits?

Lawsuits May Be Complex

Injured spectators may think that their injury automatically makes a lawsuit winnable. Unfortunately, this belief is not always consistent with reality. A legal study on spectator injury lawsuits found that a majority of courts, particularly since the 1950s, ruled consistently in favor of the team or facility owner, rather than the injured spectator.

The central premise behind this ruling is the belief that spectators assume a certain level of risk when attending a sporting event. So a spectator at a hockey game understands that they could be hit by a puck. Beyond this concept, many courts are reluctant to interfere in the situation and instead prefer the facility and the spectator to come to an agreement when spectator injuries are incurred.

Other courts may believe that the injury to the spectator was either a freak accident or something for which the facility is not liable. For example, a recent California lawsuit against the MLB regarding netting for foul balls was thrown out because the judge didn’t believe that the risk was severe enough. This ruling came in spite of the blinding of another fan due to a similar foul-ball incident.

Liability Requires Negligence

The more park-friendly stance taken by many judges and courts throughout the nation can be very frustrating for an injured fan to experience. However, a personal injury lawsuit against a sports facility may be winnable if the fan can prove that the facility was negligent. For example, the NHL once responded to fan deaths by increasing the height of safety glass around the rink.

If a hockey facility included this glass — and the appropriate netting over the ceiling — and a fan still got injured by a puck, the facility was not negligent. However, if the wounded fan can show that the netting was damaged and not properly repaired by the facility or that the glass was too short to protect them, a personal injury case may be easier to win.

While the legal disclaimers that many facilities force fans to sign are technically valid in many states, waivers don’t protect facility owners from negligence. So if a rink owner installed glass at 4 feet instead of 5 and the injured individual signed a waiver, the negligence of the owner negates the disclaimer and allows a lawsuit to continue.

Get Help to Fight This Hard Battle

The hurdles put in place for spectator injury lawsuits can be very disheartening. Many hurt individuals may give up or assume that their case cannot be won. Instead of letting the park win, contact us at The Cochran Firm-Huntsville today to learn more. Our professionals will help you better understand your rights and improve your chances of success.