Personal Injury Lawyers
Attorney Van O'Steen

Spectators Liable for Own Safety, Injuries

Van O'Steen

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Some time ago, a Chicago jury awarded $450,000 in damages to a woman who lost an eye when she was struck by a ball at a golf tournament.

That case is noteworthy because it is one of the few in which seriously injured spectators have successfully sued the sponsor of a sporting event.

The jury was persuaded, in part, by evidence that the tournament sponsors made elaborate plans to improve traffic flow and locate concession stands in a way that would maximize sales, but gave no consideration to improving conditions for spectator safety and avoidance of injuries.

Traditionally, those injured while attending sporting events have had difficulty obtaining compensation for their injuries due to a legal concept called assumption of risk.  Simply stated, it means you assume the risk of injury if you engage in an activity that has obvious risks associated with it.  Having assumed the risks reasonably associated with the event, you cannot look to the event’s sponsors or the facility’s owners to compensate you for an injury you might receive.

Recent trends in the law, however, like the Chicago golfing case, may signal a departure from the assumption of risk approach to these injury claims.

Some authorities on sports law believe the assumption of risk concept should be discarded in favor of a rule that imposes greater liability on those who sponsor sporting events and operate athletic facilities.  Because these owners and operators have greater ability to control and prevent injuries than do spectators, they should pay the cost of their failure to take reasonable steps to prevent them.

When the law imposes higher standards of liability, those affected tend to be more safety conscious.  Conversely, when there is little risk of liability for injury, less attention is given to safety considerations.

For that reason, and because the traditional concept of assumption of risk is still the prevailing view, do not assume that hockey arenas, baseball parks, golf courses, auto race tracks and other sports facilities have been injury-proofed for spectators.

Regardless of your legal protection or lack of it, you should always be aware of the risk of injury you face at any sporting event.  Attend to your own safety. Do not assume others have done it for you.