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yoco :: College Basketball
(a sports weblog) news and commentary on men's college basketball and the ncaa tournament

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Friday, December 03, 2004

illegal motion?

Here, here, here, and here, Greg Skidmore of the Sports Law Blog writes about liability laws in the event a student, player or member of the media is injured when fans rush the court. His findings?

Numerous courts have held that spectators at sporting events assume the risk of injuries that are related to the sport (i.e., a foul ball at a baseball game, a stray golf ball or a hockey puck). However, at least one court has held that the owner of a sports facility has a duty to use due care to remove risks that are not inherent in the sport. Rushing the court seems to fall into this latter category, increasing the potential for arena liability.

Less than conclusive, eh? (Matters of the law rarely are). Via email, I decided to consult attorney Tom Kirkendall, an expert in, among other practice areas, defending individuals in NCAA Infractions Committee hearings.

With regard to fans rushing the court at college basketball games, liability rules are really not much different from typical principles involving personal injury. In most states, such cases are determined on a comparative negligence basis in which the jury is asked to assess the percentage of negligence involved between the various parties. So, for example, a fan who was injured in a stampede who sues a university for negligent policing of its court would have his comparative negligence assessed by the jury along with the university's comparative negligence. If the fan was an active participant in the stampede, his percentage of negligence could be quite high, which would reduce dramatically the damages that he could recover. On the other hand, if he was a bystander who was simply injured in the stampede, then his negligence would likely by zero and his claim for damages would not be reduced.

Another issue entirely that often protects universities in these types of situations is sovereign immunity laws, which in many states provide that you cannot sue a state-supported institution for this type of claim. Sort of an offshoot of the old adage that "you can't sue City Hall."