Carlson v. Town of South Kingstown – Sporting Spectator Injuries

DCF 1.0

More than 15 million people attend professional sporting events each year, and many more attend minor league and children’s sports. Spectators assume a certain degree of risk when they sit in the stands. There is always the chance that a ball or hockey puck or even a tire could come flying into the seating area.

Most commonly, injuries occur at baseball and hockey games, at auto racing events and at golfing tournaments.

But this does not mean the property owner or team or other entities are free from liability when injuries occur to visitors. In order to overcome the inherent risk presumption and secure damages, plaintiff must introduce evidence to show the defendant and/or its facilities deviated in some relevant respect from established custom.

It’s worth noting many leagues and events put disclaimers on tickets notifying patrons of their assumption of risk. Additionally, some states have passed laws limiting the instances in which spectators can hold government entities liable for injuries. This can diminish the opportunity an injured person has to recover damages, which is why it’s imperative to speak with an experienced injury lawyer.

In the recent case of Carlson v. Town of South Kingstown, plaintiff filed a claim against a town in Rhode Island that was owner of a park where she was injured while attending a little league baseball game.

According to records with the Rhode Island Supreme Court, plaintiff attended her son’s youth baseball game at a park and field owned and maintained by defendant town. It was a championship game and admission was open to the general public free of cost. The town charged no fee for the league to use the park as it was a non-profit sports league.

After the game ended, plaintiff, who was standing in the area of the batting cages, walked toward the concession stand. As she walked, she felt her ankle twist under her and felt the bones in her leg break. It was later determined the divot into which she tripped was a result of an ongoing problem where children, waiting to get into the batting cages, dug their cleats into the ground.

A town representative testified the field was inspected two days earlier and no hazardous conditions were discovered. The hole in question was covered by defendants days after the incident. The representative indicated she knew it was common to find holes in the ball fields after use, and the town would have filled such holes had it known of them. The record didn’t indicate there were any prior incidents.

Plaintiff sued the town, alleging negligent maintenance of the premises, resulting in personal injury that caused several thousand dollars in medical bills. (Plaintiff also sued the league; trial court granted summary judgement favoring defendant, and plaintiff appealed that case separate from this one.)

Town moved for summary judgment on grounds the state’s Recreational Use Statute barred the claim. (Florida has a similar statute, codified in F.S. 375.251, which limits the liability of persons making available to the public certain areas for recreational use free of charge.)

Plaintiff objected to town’s motion, citing two exceptions to the statute. Primarily, she argued willful or malicious failure to guard or warn against a dangerous condition. She also asserted that taxes paid to the town and fees paid to the league constituted an admission fee. Court found the evidence did not support these theories and granted summary judgment favoring defendant town.

Plaintiff appealed, but the state supreme court affirmed.

The purpose of recreational use statutes is to encourage private landowners to make their property free and open to the public for purposes of recreation. But the trade-off is they face a reduced duty of care, which means those who are injured on the property may face additional challenges in recovering damages.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (561) 347-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Carlson v. Town of South Kingstown, April 8, 2015, Rhode Island Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Lackore v. Ocean Walk II – $700k Award for Hotel Guest Injury, March 26, 2015, Boca Raton Premises Liability Lawyer Blog