In May of 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported on a fight following a Dodgers game that took place in the parking lot of the California stadium. The fight occurred after a minor traffic accident. During the fight, three men allegedly knocked the victim to the ground and beat and kicked him while his pregnant girlfriend watched. As the fight was ongoing, a bystander tracked down a security guard who stepped in to stop the incident. Fortunately, the victim suffered only cuts and bruises while three of the men who were involved in the fight were arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon.
“This fight was not the first of its kind at Dodger Stadium,” explained California personal injury attorney James Ballidis. “In fact, litigation to remedy the damages that resulted from the last incident is currently underway.”
One of the most recent and widely-known examples of spectator or fan violence also occurred at this same stadium in 2011 on Opening Day when a San Francisco Giants fan named Bryan Stow was brutally attacked and suffered severe brain damage as a result.
Stadium and Team Liability
Under California’s negligence and premises liability rules, a stadium owner or team owner could be responsible for harm that results from spectator violence if the owner(s) knew or should have known that violence was likely and did not take reasonable steps to try to prevent it.
Following the Stow incident, for example, the Dodgers faced a civil lawsuit brought by Stow’s attorneys seeking an estimated $50 million in damages due to the fact that Stow will need lifelong medical care. Because the Dodgers were involved in proceedings in bankruptcy court, Stow’s attorneys also filed a claim against the team there as well. In March of 2012, the Dodgers were reportedly trying to do an end run around a civil trial where a jury would decide the case by asking the bankruptcy court to throw out the suit. They argued the suit should be thrown out because the attack against Stow was not foreseeable and because security was at an all time high when the attack occurred.
California courts have long grappled with the issue of foreseeability in instances where property owners are considered negligent on the basis of not taking action to prevent third party crime. In fact, the courts have oscillated back and forth on applying a “prior similars” rule, which imposes liability on a property owner for failure to protect against a crime only if a prior similar crime had occurred.
Today, the liability of property owners is generally decided by looking at both the likelihood and severity of a crime occurring and weighing this against the cost of particular security measures. This means that the court will consider the likelihood of sports violence and weigh this against the cost of extra security or other measures the owners could have taken to stop the violence.
Where the court will come down in the Stow case remains to be seen. However, after the Stow incident occurred, it seems very clear that team owners can no longer argue that an attack on a fan or in a parking lot is not foreseeable. The question in future liability cases, then-including in any personal injury lawsuit that may be brought based on this most recent attack at Dodger Stadium-will be whether the teams and owners acted reasonably in providing security or taking other actions to prevent crime.
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