Is the Incidence of Physical Altercations at Sporting Events Rising?
A recent fight in Dodger Stadium parking lot in California is once again drawing attention to the issue of fan violence. Fan aggression has long been a major problem, but many argue that recent incidents have contributed to a public perception that sporting events are becoming more dangerous rather than reflected an increase in violent acts.
“Whether or not the incidence of violence at sporting events is actually rising, any physical altercation resulting in injury is unacceptable,” explained California personal injury lawyer James Ballidis, “and should prompt stadium owners to increase security and safety measures.”
Is Sports Violence on the Rise?
As USA Today reports, many experts believe that these well-publicized examples of sports violence are creating a perception that spectator violence is on the rise. This perception can have very real consequences as people choose no longer to attend sports games because of the perceived risk that violence occurs there. In fact, former 49ers President Carmen Policy commented to the San Francisco Chronicle after an incident of football violence that he had heard many people say they were no longer bringing their kids to the games. USA Today reprinted Policy's quote in their own article about sports violence, indicating that Policy had stated that the reluctance of people to bring their children because of the violence was "a real problem for the NFL."
Policy's concern was expressed following an incident in which 70 fans were ejected from Candlestick Park, 12 were arrested, one was beaten in the rest room and two were shot in the parking lot at an Oakland Raiders-49ers Game. The Candlestick Park incident was a shocking deviation from prior years, since USA Today also reported that the NFL averaged only three arrests and 25 ejections per stadium per week in the past.
While USA Today indicates that there is a perception that sports violence is on the rise, and while they quoted the president of Chicago-based SportsCorp indicating that violence has escalated "perhaps as a reflection of society," there are few conclusive statistics on just how much the problem is increasing or on whether the problem of fan violence is increasing at all.
In fact, there is some evidence to indicate that the "rise in fan violence" is simply media-created hype. Reports of increasing fan or spectator violence have been in the news for decades. In 1990, for example, an article in The Seattle Times indicated that many people believed spectator violence was rising, despite the fact that stadium managers reported that this was not the case.
A more recent article in The Atlantic also reinforced the idea that fan violence may not actually be increasing. According to The Atlantic, FBI crime statistics show a drop in reported violent crimes between 2009 and 2010 and indicate that there is no "rising tide of violence." Instead, The Atlantic suggests that more violence is simply caught on video and shared with the world due to the increase in cameras and social media outlets allowing for news to be disseminated quickly.
Regardless of whether sports violence is actually on the rise or not, if people believe that it is on the rise, then stadium owners and team owners will need to take action. Not only do these owners need to take action to get people to continue coming to games, but they also must take action in order to avoid potential legal liability.
Stadium owners have an obligation under premises liability law to anyone who comes to their property. When a sports team invites people to a game and sells tickets, they also incur an obligation. When the visitor is a customer, the highest duty of care is owed and the team or stadium owner has an obligation to warn patrons of danger or to try to make the premises safe. This danger may be danger from a property that isn't properly maintained (like a property with a loose railing that comes crashing down). However, the danger may also come from failing to adequately protect people from the actions of others.
As a general rule related to personal injury liability, a person or entity cannot be held liable for injury unless 1) the party breaches a duty 2) the breach of duty is a direct cause of injury (causation) 3) the injury was foreseeable and 4) the injury can be conclusively proven.
In most cases, when there is an intervening criminal act of a third party, the "chain of causation" is broken. For instance, a stadium might be liable for injury from a loose railing because the loose railing is the direct cause of injury. However, when someone is shot in the parking lot of the stadium, the direct cause of injury is the shot and shooter, not anything the stadium has done. The person who fired the shot would then be the one liable for an injury that resulted.
There are, however, exceptions to the rule that the chain of causation breaks when a third party acts. If a property owner sets up a situation where a third party is likely to commit a crime or if a property owner knows (or should know) that third party crimes are likely and then does nothing to stop these crimes, the property owner is liable for negligence in failing to stop the third party from acting. As a simple example, if a store knows that someone is robbed in their parking lot every day, the store would be negligent in failing to put out security cameras or otherwise take steps to stop the robberies from occurring.
Hopefully, these recent incidents of sporting event violence will serve as a reminder to stadium owners to take the proper measures to keep fans safe.
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