June 2, 2015 by peterott
Assault in a Stadium Parking Lot
While scouring the internet, I recently came across this story, in which a couple was allegedly assaulted upon returning to their car following a Chicago White Sox game. The details of the story are lurid, involving public urination, violence, and medical bills. Now the couple is suing the White Sox and U.S. Cellular Field’s owner, arguing that they failed to provide adequate security and protection for patrons of White Sox games in the adjoining parking lot.
Perhaps it is because I am in the midst of bar review study, where I spend each day reviewing basic legal principles, but these facts seemed to me to be an interesting application of the elements of a tort claim. In order to be successful in their claim, this couple will have to prove:
- That the team and/or the stadium owner (the defendants) owed a duty to them
- That the team and/or the stadium owner breached that duty
- That an injury occurred, and
- That the breach of that duty caused the instant injury
If they can prove all of these elements, then this couple will be entitled to a potentially hefty financial recovery of the damages they suffered. They would not be the first people to succeed in such a suit. In a lawsuit on similar facts last year at Dodger Stadium, a man who was assaulted in a stadium parking lot following a game won $18 million worth of damages (after legal fees, he ended up with $15 million).
In this case, it seems reasonably clear that the third element of a tort is met, since the plaintiffs in this case were beaten for an extended period of time and were left with medical bills (presumably resulting from physical injuries).
The main issue here is probably with regard to the first element – whether the defendants owed a duty to protect people who attend the game and use the parking lot from prolonged assault in that parking lot. Oftentimes, organizations such as baseball teams and stadium owners try to limit their liability by placing signs warning patrons that they park at their own risk. If this parking lot had signs such as that, this could limit the potential recovery of this couple. However, it is also unreasonable to expect a parking lot attached to a stadium to be such a dangerous place that ordinary people would be afraid to walk through it. It would defeat the purpose of providing a parking lot for attendees at all. So, there is probably some minimum level of duty that the defendants owe to fans. Whether it is reasonable to expect these defendants to protect people from assault by third parties is the issue here.
Depending on the scope of that duty, if the defendants breached it, then the couple in this case will likely be successful. It seems that if the defendants had a duty to protect these people against such an assault, that duty was probably breached and that breach led to the injury of this couple. So, the scope of the duty owed to fans attending sporting events matters a lot here. The couple wants the duty of protection owed to them to be as large as possible, while the defendants will seek to argue either that no duty is owed at all, or that it is a small duty that does not apply here.
These cases are heard by juries of real people though, and the human element of assault cases like this can be very powerful. Surely the defendants in this case are wary of letting it go to trial and they would likely prefer to settle the case. That way they could avoid the negative publicity that comes from a trial revolving around a severe injury suffered by fans at a sporting event. We’ll have to see how this case turns out.
Note: If you’re interested in additional reading beyond the above-linked articles, I also found this post to be insightful about this case.