Suits for injuries at public events, even celebrations like a Super Bowl victory, can occur where persons who attend are injured. Whether such a suit can go forward to trial was explored in a recent reported opinion from Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals in a case called Sutton-Witherspoon v. S.A.F.E. Management.
The case involves the parade and celebration held at the M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore following the Ravens’ 2013 Super Bowl Victory. The opinion indicates that the Ravens’ lease gave it authority over gate operations and events. The City of Baltimore wanted to hold the victory parade, as was done following the 2001 Super Bowl Victory, between City Hall and the War Memorial Plaza. However, the team wanted an event at the stadium, disagreeing with the city over the expected size of the crowd.
The stadium opened at 10:00 a.m., with free admission but sales of refreshments and merchandise. So many people attended that before the parade even arrived, the fire marshall ordered the gates closed, though left unlocked for safety. Vehicles with players arrived outside the stadium, and the Plaintiff and her eight-year-old son were getting autographs and taking pictures.
A police helicopter announcement said that the stadium gates were closed, but people were climbing over the gates and opening them. When that happened, the crowd surged and plaintiff and her son were knocked to the ground and trampled. Police ended up disbursing the crowd with pepper spray.
The Plaintiff, on behalf of herself and her son, sued the city, the Ravens, and its management company, and the trial judge granted a motion before trial in favor of the defendants. The theories of the lawsuit were: 1) Defendants failed to anticipate the reasonably foreseeable huge crowd that they had invited, and failed to take reasonable safety precautions to contend with that crowd, or 2) once the crowd arrived, defendants failed to warn of the existing danger or take reasonable steps to eliminate the danger before the crowd surge when patrons opened the gates. The trial judge threw out the case, ruling that the defendants had no actual or constructive notice that a crowd surge might take place and injure persons like the plaintiffs.
The appellate court reversed the lower court, holding that the judge failed to consider the first theory and whether such a huge crowd should have been anticipated with the necessary safety precautions in place. It remains to be seen whether a jury would agree that there can be liability for injuries in such a crowd.
Thomas Patrick Ryan is a partner in the Rockville law firm of McCarthy Wilson, which specializes in civil litigation.