Is Professionalism Lacking In Professional Sports?

Whether it is a deterioration of civility in the culture of sports, or even a reflection of society at large, in recent years there have been a number of high-profile confrontations between players and fans, and fights between fans. These clashes have resulted in a rash of sports fan injuries.

In 2004, Frank Francisco, then a member of the Texas Rangers baseball team, reacted to a disturbance in the Rangers bullpen between a player and a fan by throwing a folding chair into the stands. The chair struck the wife of the Oakland A's fan, breaking her nose. An investigation by the A's proved that the fan did nothing to violate the code of conduct to which fans must adhere.

Even if a fan's behavior crosses the line, retaliation or action by a player or coach against a fan is never acceptable. After the chair throwing incident, the victim filed an assault and battery tort lawsuit against Mr. Francisco (and other defendants also named in the lawsuit, including the Texas Rangers organization) and received a confidential settlement.

More recently, on opening day of the 2011 professional baseball season, a San Francisco Giants fan was brutally attacked by Los Angeles Dodger fans while waiting for a taxi outside of Dodger Stadium. The attack left the Giants fan, Brian Stow, unconscious. Due to the extent of the injuries he suffered during the beating, Mr. Stow was placed into a medically-induced coma and part of his skull was removed in order to relieve pressure on his brain. Doctors are now attempting to determine the extent of Mr. Stow's traumatic brain injury.

Like the A's fan, Mr. Stow, through legally-appointed conservators, has filed a lawsuit against those that perpetrated or allowed the beating to occur, including the Los Angeles Dodgers and its ownership. In the lawsuit, Mr. Stow alleges that he and his friends, who were all dressed in San Francisco team gear, were intimidated, heckled and had objects thrown at them throughout the game by Dodgers fans (who were aided by alcohol through a half-price beer promotion, which has since been canceled). The intimidation was so bad that Mr. Stow sent a text message to his family expressing concern for his safety. The lawsuit alleges that security for the Los Angeles Dodgers was aware of the intimidation, but failed to remove the offending fans.

Further, Mr. Stow alleges that the Los Angeles Dodgers failed to provide adequate security and lighting in their parking lots. The fans that assaulted Mr. Stow followed him into the dimly-lit parking lot, took advantage of the lack of security and beat him as he waited for a taxi. The complaint notes that it took 10 to 15 minutes for security to arrive on the scene.

Liability for Injuries

Mr. Stow's case serves as a good example of the types of personal injury claims that can stem from situations where a fan's injuries are unforeseeable, or do not result from the "ordinary and foreseeable risks that are inherent" to the sport. In the complaint, Mr. Stow seeks to recover compensation for his injuries under a variety of causes of action, including:

  • Negligence
  • Premises liability
  • Negligent hiring, retention and supervision
  • Negligent infliction of emotional distress
  • Loss of consortium
  • Assault and battery
  • False imprisonment
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress

Essentially, the claims against the Los Angeles Dodgers center on the premise that the baseball club has a duty to keep all fans attending the game, even San Francisco Giants fans, safe - whether that is done through ejecting drunk, intimidating or otherwise unruly fans; providing adequate security in both personnel and lighting; or otherwise maintaining a ballpark that is free from hazards that could injure fans.

Several of the causes of action are directed at the fans that perpetrated the beating, and like the claims against the Los Angeles Dodgers, these claims are supported by facts specific to this instance. Basically, the causes of action against the fans state that, because their behavior was intentional, willful, wanton and malicious, they should be held liable for their actions that caused Mr. Stow injury.

If You are Injured

Fans do assume some risk of injury while attending sporting events. But, fans do not assume the risk of injury that results from the incivility, assault or negligence of others.

Sadly, these acts are not limited to just professional athletics, either. In recent years, fans and parents at high school sporting events, and even little-league games, have been involved in fights or verbal altercations with referees and other fans.

Through a personal injury lawsuit, such as an assault and battery claim or premises liability claim, an injured fan may be able to recover just compensation for medical bills, future medical care, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If an athlete's, coach's or other fan's actions are out-of-bounds and cause you injury at a sporting event, speak with an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your legal options.