Could better security by the Los Angeles Dodgers have prevented the brutal beating in 2011 of a New York Giants fan, thereby eliminating costly litigation, which resulted July 9 in a jury award of $18 million—almost $14 million to be paid by the Dodgers organization—to the victim, Bryan Stow?
The Dodgers apparently failed to convince jurors that the club provided adequate security to thwart the assault, which left Stow, then 42, in a coma in the parking lot outside Dodgers Stadium. Lawyers for Stow alleged shortcomings including inadequate planning and size of the security force and reduced use of off-duty police officers. The lawsuit also alleged that the Dodgers had a poor track record for securing the stadium, that the poor security exposed Stow to criminal acts of a third party and that security showed a poor response time of 10 to 15 minutes after the attack.
The Dodgers argued that Stow could not prove any link between additional security steps and the injuries he suffered. The jury apparently felt otherwise. This is a good lesson for Minor League Baseball and other sports as well.
As I have written in Legally Speaking on other matters (including ballpark liability and child abuse), the first step is to prevent harm, after which the question of liability should be addressed. Since the incident, the Dodgers have hired a consultant to develop a "security blueprint" for the stadium and its parking lots. Moreover, the Los Angeles County supervisor has called for strict limits on the sales of alcohol at Dodger Stadium and has chastised the Dodger organization: "Denying that lack of security played a role in this attack is simply sticking their head in the sand."
So the answer seems to be yes, injuries from incidents like the Stow beating might be prevented if teams work to eliminate the circumstances that could lead to dangers inside and outside the ballpark. Such diligence will also reduce greatly potential liability.
A flying hot dog is nothing like a foul ball, according to the Missouri Supreme Court, which decided in June that the risk of being injured by a hot dog thrown by the Kansas City Royals mascot was not one of the inherent risks of watching a Royals home game. Significantly, the court did not alter or restrict the baseball rule in relation to the risks that are necessary and inherent to the game
The decision, in a case brought by a spectator who suffered an eye injury when struck by the hot dog, applies only to cases that arise in the state of Missouri. However, the court's reasoning was thorough and clear, and other courts may follow its lead. Given the wide range of promotions in Minor League Baseball, teams should pay attention to the ruling.
The court drew a bright line between foul balls and other risks that are part of the game of baseball and the activities of the mascot and other entertainment activities. In regard to the baseball rule, the no-duty rationale still applies for inherent risks, although the home team still owes a duty of reasonable care not to alter or increase those inherent risks.
The Missouri Supreme Court sent the case back to the trial court, saying it was up to the jury to decide whether the mascot injured the spectator by hitting him with a hot dog and whether the mascot was negligent in doing so. If so, the jury is entitled to hold the Royals liable for the spectator's damages and entitled to reduce those damages by whatever percentage of fault the evidence shows should be assessed to the spectator.
Jim was quoted in an article about the decision in the June 30 issue of Missouri Lawyers Weekly.