Many Californians have heard about the recent tragedy on opening day at Dodger’s Stadium. Bryan Stow has been in a medically-induced coma since late April after being savagely beaten by another spectator during a Dodgers-Giants game. As of today, Stow is suffering from cranial swelling and fluid retention and desperately needs an operation which would allow the fluid surrounding his brain to drain to his abdomen where it can be quickly absorbed by the body. Stow’s family has set up a fund for donations to help pay for his medical bills. Even celebrities like the omnipresent Charlie Sheen has donated $20,000 to the cause.
Stow was beaten in the Dodger’s Stadium parking lot by four unidentified individuals who were chanting about Dodger’s baseball. Onlookers believe unprovoked attack was related to the Stow’s apparent affinity for the Giants. Stow was visiting Dodger’s Stadium for the first time and was spending the season-opener with friends.
Amidst this tragedy, questions arise as to who could be held civilly liable to Stow for his injuries. While clearly the answer would be the four assailants who beat him in the parking lot, the solution is not always that simple. Many times, victims of assault and battery have a difficult time recovering from their direct attacker because he or she is completely insolvent and could not possibly cover the costs, which are probably in the millions of dollars in Stow’s case, of the personal injuries. Even if Stow’s assailants were located and sued civilly, the likelihood that even all four of them combined could come up with the funds is highly unlikely. For this reason, many litigants seek a second or third option- a defendant with deeper pockets.
Probably the best second option for Stow would be to sue Dodger’s Stadium. The stadium is owned and maintained privately and its assets would total in the millions of dollars. Many sports fans have been injured in stadiums over the years and the law is not quite settled in this area. How much liability should a sports stadium incur by virtue of its purpose. The answer is heavily dependent on the facts of each case and the state within which the injury took place.
The facts presented in this case are interesting and debatable. First, stadiums are not liable for injuries incurred that are considered part of the game. In other words, injuries from pop flies, foul balls, homeruns and flying bats would be considered naturally part of the game of baseball and fans have assumed the risk of these types of injuries by purchasing a ticket and sitting in the seat. Sometimes the lines are blurred, however, when fans are distracted by stadium antics, mascots get in the way of a spectator’s line of vision or families with small children are sitting in a designated “safe zone.” In these types of cases, ball parks have been held liable for injuries as fans have not assumed the risk of distraction from the field of play at the hands of a giant, furry mascot dancing in their face.
California’s premises liability laws also come into play in this scenario, as well as its dram shop rules. Premises liability rules dictates that any landowner or business must afford any guests on premises for purposes of conferring a financial benefit the highest level protection from harm. Under this heading, Dodger’s Stadium may not serve clearly intoxicated patrons more alcohol or it could be liable for injuries resulting therefrom.
It will be interesting to see exactly how this situation will play out. Of utmost importance is Bryan Stow’s recovery from his injuries.