If you have ever been to a sporting event before as the fan of the visiting team, you know full well you are putting your proverbial life at risk if you wear the apparel of the visiting team and root for the visiting team at the game.
At any sporting event, there are individuals of the home team who conduct themselves inappropriately. That is why the home team is forced to provide for a sufficient level of security to ensure the safety of all of the spectators involved.
In a recent decision, the Pennsylvania Superior Court in Pearson v. Philadelphia Eagles, 2019 Pa. Super. LEXIS 1016 (Oct. 11, 2019) addressed whether a jury verdict in favor of a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, based upon injuries he suffered during an altercation with fans of the Philadelphia Eagles during a game between the teams at Lincoln Financial Field, should be overturned based upon a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.
In late 2014, Patrick Pearson, a Dallas Cowboys fan, went with a friend to the Eagles-Cowboys game at Lincoln Financial Field, the opinion said.
During the game, Pearson wore a Dallas Cowboys’ jersey. At halftime, Pearson and his friend went to the restroom, the opinion said. In the restroom they got into a verbal and physical altercation with some of the fans of the Philadelphia Eagles, the opinion said. Pearson was physically injured during the altercation and was immediately transported to the hospital where he underwent surgery for a broken ankle.
Despite undergoing physical therapy, Pearson continues to walk with a limp and has pain in the leg in which the ankle was broken.
Pearson subsequently commenced a personal injury action in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas against the corporate entity that owns the Philadelphia Eagles as well as the corporate entity that manages Lincoln Financial Field.
In the complaint, Pearson raised allegations of negligence against them relating to the security program, or lack thereof, at the stadium. In particular, he alleged that he would not have been injured if a different program of security was provided, i.e., an extra security guard stationed inside the bathroom, the opinion said.
After a jury trial took place, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Pearson, finding that the defendants’ negligence was a factual cause of his injuries and awarding him damages in the amount of $700,000, the opinion said.
Afterwards, the named defendants filed post-trial motions, including one for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The trial court ultimately denied the motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict.
The Philadelphia Eagles and the operator of Lincoln Financial Field then filed an appeal to the Superior Court.
On appeal, the appellants argued that “Pearson failed to prove that the appellants were negligent in implementing their security program and thus, Pearson could not demonstrate that the appellants breached a duty that caused his injury.”
Quoting Truax v. Roulhac, 126 A.3d 991 (Pa. Super. 2015), the Superior Court pointed out that “the duty owed to a business invitee is the highest duty owed to any entrant upon land” and “the landowner is under an affirmative duty to protect a business visitor not only against known dangers but also against those which might be discovered with reasonable care.”
The Superior Court then emphasized that, in determining the scope of duty property owners owe to business invitees, appellate courts in Pennsylvania have previously relied upon the Restatement (Second) of Torts Section 343, which provides “a possessor of land is subject to liability for physical harm caused to his invitees by a condition on the land, if but only if, he: knows or by the exercise of reasonable care would discover the condition, and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk to such invitees, and should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger, or will fail to protect themselves against it, and fails to exercise reasonable care to protect them against the danger.”
Citing to Campisi v. Acme Markets, 915 A.2d 117, 119-20 (Pa. Super. 2006), the Superior Court stated that “an invitee must demonstrate that the proprietor deviated from its duty of reasonable care owed under the circumstances” and “the particular duty owed to a business invitee must be determined on a case-by-case basis.”
The appellants argued that “the trial court erred in concluding that they deviated from the duty of reasonable care owed to Pearson under the circumstances by not having security personnel stationed in the stadium restrooms on the basis that it was foreseeable that altercations could take place in the bathrooms.” In doing so, they relied upon the ruling handed down by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Feld v. Merriam, 485 A.2d 742 (Pa. 1984).
In Feld, tenants had just returned to their assigned parking space in the parking garage of their apartment complex and were assaulted by armed individuals who held them at gunpoint. They then sued the landlord, alleging a breach of duty of protection owed by the landlord to them.
The Supreme Court in Feld stated that “absent therefore an agreement wherein the landlord offers or voluntarily proffers a program, it finds no general duty of a landlord to protect tenants against criminal intrusion.”
However, the Supreme Court in Feld cautioned that, “when a landlord by agreement or voluntarily offers a program to protect the premises, he must perform the task in a reasonable manner and where a harm follows a reasonable expectation of that harm, he is liable.”
In other words, the duty enunciated in Feld “is one of reasonable care under the circumstances and “it is not the duty of an insurer and a landlord is not liable unless his failure is the proximate cause of the harm.”
The Supreme Court also cited to Comment f. to Section 344 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts that provides that a duty to protect business invitees against third-party conduct arises only if the owner has reason to anticipate such conduct.
Relying upon the Supreme Court’s decision in Feld and Comment f. to Section 344 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, the Superior Court in Pearson concluded that the appropriate inquiry in this case is whether the named defendants had notice of prior incidents in the stadium bathrooms and, if no such notice existed, then Pearson had to demonstrate that they otherwise lacked reasonable care in conducting their security program.
The appellants in Pearson argued that “they had no notice that a violent attack like the one on Pearson was likely to occur” and that “the attack on Pearson was a surprise and that there is no evidence of record that supports the trial court’s conclusion that they were aware of multiple prior incidents of violence in the stadium’s bathrooms.
In response, Pearson pointed to the testimony of security personnel at trial that allegedly confirmed that the appellants were aware of fights occurring in the bathroom as evidence that they were on notice that the stadium restrooms were a dangerous location.
In reviewing that testimony, the Superior Court in Pearson stated that “the record, however, belies Pearson’s assertions” and, that, while the security personnel “acknowledged in their trial testimony that in the past, fights had occurred in the restrooms, both explained that these incidents occurred with such infrequency, that the appellants chose to have their security personnel more closely monitor other areas of the stadium.”
As such, the Superior Court reasoned that, “at best, Pearson can argue that the appellants should have had in place a different security program or additional security personnel available on the night of Pearson’s injury,” but that, “such an argument, however, is not a basis for a finding of negligence.”
Rather, according to the Superior Court in Pearson, “in order to successfully prove a negligence claim, Pearson had to demonstrate that the appellants failed to conduct the security program offered with ‘reasonable care.’”
The Superior Court in Pearson rejected his assertion that the appellants lacked such reasonable care because it took several minutes for security personnel to arrive at the restroom following the altercation that resulted in his injury because there was “no indication in the record or otherwise that had the security personnel been more prompt in arriving at the restroom, it would have prevented his injury.”
The Superior Court also found unavailing his argument that “it was a known danger to wear the apparel of the opposing team to Eagles’ games as proof that they operated their security program in a negligent manner” because they “recognized this danger and addressed the issue by having some of their security personnel dress in the opposing team’s apparel at their games, and patrol the stadium undercover to identify individuals who were harassing fans of the opposing team.”
In so analyzing the situation, the Superior Court in Pearson held that the trial court erred in denying the motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, as the Philadelphia Eagles and the other named defendants were entitled to judgment as a matter of law and, in doing so, vacated the judgment entered in favor of Pearson, reversing the order denying the motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and remanding the case to the trial court for entry of judgment.
The Superior Court’s ruling in Pearson clearly sets forth a property owner’s duty to protect business invitees where security to them is offered.
While a property owner is not a guarantor for such protection under the circumstances, when providing such security protection, the property owner must do so with reasonable care.
By the way, for all of you who attend Eagles games, you have been warned that the team has security personnel who patrol the stadium dressed in the apparel of the visiting team. In other words, fans beware. #flyeaglesfly.
Reprinted with permission from the November 12, 2019 edition of The Legal Intelligencer © 2019 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. For information, contact 877-257-3382, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.almreprints.com.