In Patrick Pearson v. Philadelphia Eagles, LLC, Eagles Stadium Operators, LLC, and Executive Services Management Inc., the Superior Court of Pennsylvania vacated the trial court’s judgment and reversed an order denying the Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendants Philadelphia Eagles and their security staff provider in a case seeking damages from injuries sustained during a restroom altercation. At the trial stage, the jury returned a verdict for Mr. Pearson, finding the Defendants negligent in their security program and awarding Plaintiff$700,000 in damages. The Superior Court disagreed with the trial court and found that, when applying the standard ofnegligence for the duty owed to protect invitees from criminal acts of third parties, Defendants were entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
This case arose when the Plaintiff attended a football game(Philadelphia Eagles vs. the Dallas Cowboys) at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Plaintiff attended the game wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey. At halftime, Plaintiff went to the stadium restroom, where Eagles fans and Cowboys fans were taunting each other back and forth. While waiting in line to use the restroom, someone grabbed Plaintiff’s Cowboys hat and threw it in a urinal, another person lunged at him, and a scuffle ensued. Plaintiff went to the ground, and the Eagles fans who fought with Plaintiff fled when someone yelled for “security.” While Plaintiff waited for a friend to pick him up, he noticed that his right foot was turned at a 90-degree angle. Security arrived and took Plaintiff for medical attention. He was later found to have suffered a right ankle fracture that required two surgeries and was left with a limp and pain in his right leg. At trial, Plaintiff raised the issue of allegations of negligence against Defendants relating to the security provided at the stadium, which he claimed caused his injury. The trial court found for Plaintiff and judgment was entered in his favor. Defendants filed a Motion for Judgment Notwithstanding the Verdict, which was denied.
On appeal, Defendants argued that they were entitled to judgment notwithstanding the verdict because Plaintiff had “failed to set forth a prima facie case of negligence.” Defendants contended that the trial court erred by finding that they deviated from the duty of reasonable care owed to Plaintiff by not having security personnel stationed in the stadium restroom on the basis that it was foreseeable an altercation could take place there.
The Appellate Court primarily focused on the issue of whether a duty existed between the parties and, if a duty existed,whether there was a breach of that duty. The Court examined a previous case that explained the duty of a landlord to protect tenants from foreseeable criminal acts of a third person. The Court explained that “there is a general rule against holding a person liable for the criminal conduct of another absent a preexisting duty,” but that “there is an exception to that rule where a party assumes a duty, whether gratuitously or for consideration, and so negligently performs that duty that another suffers damage.”
The Court found that the duty owed to Plaintiff was analogous the above-mentioned duty owed to tenants for the foreseeable criminal acts of a third person. There was no dispute that Plaintiff was a business invitee and that Defendantsvoluntarily undertook a duty to protect their invitees from fighting during games at the stadium. The Court found that just because Defendants did not have security stationed in their restrooms, when the security programs were otherwise adequate, Plaintiff failed to present enough evidence to hold Defendantsnegligent. The Court noted that the duty to protect business invitees from others’ conduct only arises if the owner has reason to anticipate the conduct. Therefore, the Court reasoned,Defendants must have had notice of prior incidents in the stadium restrooms, and if no such notice existed, Plaintiff must demonstrate that Defendants otherwise lacked reasonable care in conducting its security program.
The Court found that there was not enough evidence of prior incidents of violence in the restrooms. There was specific testimony from Defendants’ security staff that historical dataused by security showed that the restrooms were not an area where violent incidents occurred, which obviated the need to focus security staff in each restroom. The record indicated that most incidents in the restrooms were due to persons who were incapacitated due to intoxication rather than violence. The Court found that because there was no evidence to support a history of violence in the restrooms, and no evidence that Defendantsknew or had reason to know from past experience that violent assaults were likely to occur to endanger invitees, Defendantsacted reasonably by not stationing security staff in or directly outside the stadium restrooms.
Based on these findings, the Court concluded that the trial court erred in denying the Defendants’ motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and the Defendants were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The Court then remanded the case to the trial court for an entry of judgment in favor of the Defendants.
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