On September 8, 2012, opening weekend of football for the NFL, a spectator fell to his death at San Francisco 49ers stadium while attending the game. The spectator fell to his death from a pedestrian walkway outside of the stadium. Multiple witnesses told police that the victim appeared to be intoxicated at the time of his fall. That very same weekend, two fans were injured when a railing collapsed inside Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts, during a Colts game against the Oakland Raiders. Luckily, neither of these fans were seriously injuries. Unfortunately, however, these incidents are just the latest in a series of deaths and injuries at sports stadiums across the United States over the past several years.
According to the Institute for the Study of Sports Incidents, based at the University of Southern Mississippi, since 2003 there have been more than two-dozen cases of fans falling at stadiums across the country. On August 13, 2013, an Atlanta Braves fan was killed at Turner Field in Atlanta after falling 85 feet from a fourth-level railing of the stadium onto a parking lot below. In addition, during a pre-season NFL football game this year, a Denver Broncos fan was injured when he fell 10 feet from an escalator. Finally, at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas in 2011, a spectator fell to this death from the left-field seats after trying to catch a ball tossed towards him.
In addition to complying with local and states laws, all stadiums must also comply with the strict safety guidelines instituted by the International Building Code, which has been adopted by all 50 states and the District of Colombia. Among the guidelines are various railing requirements, including calls for railings in front of seats to be at least 26 inches high, and a requirement that protective railings placed in open-sided areas such as concourses be at least 42 inches in height.
Yet, sometimes complying with the safety measures is not enough. In at least some of the cases discussed above, the local and international building requirements were met at the time of the accidents. Specifically, in the case of the accident at Turner Field, the victim fell over a guardrail that was 42 inches tall. Additionally, at Rangers Ballpark, the guardrails in front of the left-field seats at the site of the fatal fall were 34 inches, well above both local and international requirements. Alana Penza, director of the Institute for the Study of Sports Incidents says that sometimes venues will say the incidents are just accidents and other times they might decide to make adjustments. At Rangers Ballpark, the stadium not only made changes to its railings, but also added prominent warning signs near the railings.
Venues have a legal duty to erect and maintain buildings that are reasonably safe, given the reasonably foreseeable conduct of spectators at the venue. If the owners and managers of stadiums fail to take appropriate steps to address potential safety risks and/or fail to follow public safety regulations, victims of these accidents and their families may have legal actions against both the property owner and manager at fault. Notably, as the owners and management companies are aware of the risks posed to spectators at these sporting events, tickets are printed with a disclaimer and assumption of potential risk statements. These statements essentially mean that by purchasing the ticket, the guest understands he or she may be injured and assumes responsibility should he or she be injured. The statements are meant to relieve stadium owners and mangers from assuming legal liability for an injured person.
While courts often disregard personal injury claims as a result of the disclaimers placed on tickets, an individual may still have a valid personal injury, premises liability and/or negligence claim against the owners and managers of a venue if he or she can prove that the owner of the stadium failed to take adequate measures to properly maintain the property and warn against hazards.
If you are a loved one were injured while attending a sporting or other entertainment event at an arena or sports stadium, call one of San Antonio premises liability attorneys today at 1-800-862-1260. Carabin Shaw represents those individuals that have suffered an injury or death while on a property of another person or entity and can review your premises liability case at no charge or expense to you.
Stadium is Latest in String of Spectator Tragedies, by Alyssa Newcomb, ABC News
Despite safety measures, no stadium foolproof, by Nancy Armour, Associated Press