Court Throws a Challenge Flag on Cowboy Fan’s $700,000 Verdict
A football fan may not see any of the $700,000 in damages awarded in a 2018 jury verdict against the Philadelphia Eagles over allegations of negligent security. The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently vacated the award in a ruling that “could prove instructive in other premises liability cases,” according to The Legal Intelligencer.
Patrick Pearson, who is a Dallas Cowboys fan, attended a matchup on Dec. 14, 2014, between the Eagles and Cowboys on the Eagles’ home turf, Lincoln Financial Field. That day, Pearson wore a Troy Aikman jersey, honoring the former Cowboys’ player-turned-commentator. He said in court papers that Eagles’ fans jeered at him while in line for the restroom, scuffled with him, and tossed his Cowboys cap into a urinal, PennLive.com reported.
Pearson suffered a fractured ankle and later underwent two surgeries. In 2016, he sued the Eagles, the field’s corporate owner, and the field’s security provider, accusing them of negligence because no guards were in or near the restrooms.
A jury in May 2018 awarded Pearson $700,000 in damages following a trial. However, in October 2019, state judges said that the lower court should have dismissed the case in favor of the Eagles.
Pearson had cited a 1984 state Supreme Court ruling in Feld v. Merriam,((Stewart J. Eisenberg not only assisted in trying this case but also retried the case in 1986 after the verdict was reversed by the PA Supreme Court in 1984. The second trial resulted in a $2.2 million verdict.)) which holds property owners liable for any foreseeable harm to visitors that the property owner doesn’t sufficiently prevent.
However, in Pearson’s case, a three-judge panel decided that the record did not support the claim that violent assaults or fighting was common in the restrooms. Rather, the majority opinion found that the defendants had “recognized this danger and addressed the issue” by sending guards to patrol the stands to stop any altercations or harassment there.
“Where a property owner knows or has reason to know, from past experience, that there is a likelihood of conduct on the part of third persons that would harm invitees, the property owner ‘may be under a duty to take precautions against it, and to provide a reasonably sufficient number of servants to afford a reasonable protection,’” Superior Court Judge Mary Murray wrote in the court’s majority opinion. “In this case, however, the record does not support the trial court’s conclusion that appellants were on notice that violent assaults regularly took place in the stadium’s restrooms or that appellants conducted their security program without reasonable care.”
However, Senior Judge Eugene Strassburger III penned a concurring opinion in which he noted that it would be more fair to hold a business responsible than an injured consumer. “[Injuries] such as these are foreseeable risks of conducting this type of business, and commercial businesses are in a far better financial position to absorb the cost by spreading the risk among thousands of customers,” he wrote.
Pearson could appeal this ruling to the state Supreme Court.