Two days after he narrowly avoided injury when a railing collapsed in FedEx Field, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts is demanding an explanation for what he terms a “near-tragic incident” at the Maryland-based home of the Washington Football Team.
“Many individuals,” Hurts wrote in a letter on Tuesday to WFT and the NFL, “including fans, media personnel, and myself, were placed in a dangerous situation when portions of the FedEx Field tunnel collapsed.” He added that a group of ticket holders fell and “could be suffering from lingering issues.”
While WFT issued a statement assuring that the fallen fans had been offered medical assistance, ESPN interviewed several of those fans who flatly disputed WFT’s account. They insisted that stadium staff pressured them to leave the field and weren’t interested in whether they had suffered injuries.
As of this writing, none of the fallen fans have brought legal claims against WFT or FedEx Field, which, like the team, is owned by Daniel Snyder. If none are injured, then none have suffered damages necessary for a successful lawsuit. Even if fans were injured, WFT could attempt to negotiate out-of-court settlements in which fans would be paid to relinquish potential legal claims. A game ticket might also contain language requiring claims must first go through mediation and/or arbitration.
Tickets to NFL games ordinarily carry far-reaching liability disclaimers. For example, Baltimore Ravens tickets to M&T Bank Stadium have stated, “ticket holder assumes all risks incident to the game or related events, including the risk of lost, stolen or damaged property or personal injury of any kind.” This type of language makes it difficult for fans to prevail in litigation over injuries.
Last month, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by a Ravens fan who was hit in the face by a football. She was injured when punter Sam Koch errantly kicked a football before a game in 2015. The court explained that the fan had voluntarily assumed the risk. The court also observed that punters’ pre-game warmups are routine and that the incident was an accident.
Still, the possibility of personal injury litigation against WFT could linger. Maryland law features a three-year statute of limitations for negligence, premises liability and related torts claims. A fan who in weeks, months or even years believes they were wrongly injured could sue WFT.
That’s no guarantee of success. A court could reason an injured fan voluntarily assumed the risk, and that the collapse of the railing occurred during an ordinary—and predictable—event: the cheering of a player as he walked off the field following a win. A court might suggest that the fans, by reaching over the railing in hopes of getting a “high five” from Hurts are partly to blame.
Then again, a court might conclude that while fans assume various risks, they don’t assume that a railing designed to hold them up would collapse. Similar cases have demonstrated that point. In 1998, two West Point cadets were injured when a railing collapsed during an Army-Navy football game. They sued Philadelphia, the railing’s manufacturer and the stadium security company, eventually receiving a $1.1 million settlement.
Here, a court would assess if the FedEx Field railing met industry standards for an NFL stadium, in terms of design, materials and maintenance. If the railing wasn’t designed to support the fans’ collective weight, then perhaps stadium security should have prevented them from pushing the railing. A fan could also credibly argue that the incident was foreseeable in that fans pushing against a railing is hardly uncommon. There are other possible defendants, including the company that provided the railing and the person(s) who installed and monitored it, and—particularly given accounts by fallen fans they weren’t offered medical care and were instead pressured to get off the field—stadium security.