Recent Fatal Falls in Sports Stadiums Spur Design Attention; Lawsuits Likely

When 30-year-old Ronald Lee Homer Jr. accidentally fell to his death from an upper level of Turner Field in Atlanta earlier in August while he was attending a baseball game, the 42-inch-high railing he apparently fell over became a key topic.

He knew the stadium well as a longtime regular attendee, according to a story by The Associated Press.  The 6-foot-6-inch-tall baseball enthusiast was apparently waiting out a rain delay in a fourth-level smoking area near a 42-inch-tall railing when he somehow fell 85 feet to his death in a parking lot below, the story said.

“While it’s not clear exactly why he fell, police say the death around 8:30 appears to have been an accident and didn’t involve foul play,” the story reported. “At least four witnesses told police that no one else was standing near him when he fell.”

There have been other fatal incidents like this one in recent years in stadiums. In Georgia alone, two other stadium falls occurred in the past year, causing one death, according to The AP story. “Isaac Grubb, 20, of Lenoir City, Tenn., died after falling over a railing at the Georgia Dome during a football game between Tennessee and North Carolina State on Aug. 31, 2012. Authorities said he landed on another man seated in the lower level, and that alcohol was involved.”

In a non-fatal incident in September 2012, a man fell about 25 feet over a staircase railing at a Georgia Tech-Miami football game in the Georgia Dome but was not seriously injured, according to the story. “In May 2008, a 25-year-old Cumming, Ga. man suffered head injuries when he fell down a stairwell at Turner Field during a game between the Braves and the New York Mets and later died. Police found that alcohol was involved.”

In July 2011, a well-publicized case involved the death of a baseball fan, firefighter Shannon Stone, who fell to his death at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, when he reached out from his upper level seat to try to catch a ball tossed his way by a player, according to related AP story. Stone’s 6-year-old son was with him when the accident happened. In that stadium, “the guardrails in front of the left-field seats were 34 inches, well above local and international building requirements,” the story reported. “After Stone’s fall, the Rangers raised all front-row railings that were above field level to at least 42 inches, with some being raised by more than a foot. The new raised railings in the $1.1 million project included beveled tops and leaned slightly inward, making it safer for fans in front-row seats throughout the stadium.

Under present laws, stadiums must meet strict safety guidelines to ensure the safety of attendees, according to the AP story. “The International Building Code is the industry standard, adopted in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It calls for railings in front of seats to be a minimum of 26 inches. Protective railings in open-sided areas, such as concourses on the outer edges of stadiums, have a minimum height requirement of 42 inches.”

Certainly, not all incidents and accidents, including falls, can be stopped, but perhaps more must be done to ensure that people can attend events in stadiums without real possibilities of death or serious injury just because they showed up for an event.

Are stadiums across the United States safe enough today? This is a question we should all be asking after a string of unrelated fatal accidents over the last few years. Yes, the likelihood of such an accident appears to be remote compared to auto crashes, medical malpractice injuries and other tragedies, but asking the questions today is certainly warranted due to the recent death of Mr. Homer.

Surely, as stadiums look at their existing designs and safety precautions, they will likely make some corrections to resolve any shortcomings they might find. Those changes could set precedents for lawsuits that come out of these kinds of cases, because by making changes, the stadiums will be acknowledging that there were potential and perhaps contributory safety problems in the first place. It is likely that legal actions, including lawsuits, will follow these kinds of cases.

If you’ve ever read the back of an admission ticket for a sporting event, including a baseball, hockey, football or basketball game, you’ve certainly seen all the legal disclaimers that say that you accept the risks of attending and don’t hold the team or venue responsible in the event you are injured. Even though those disclaimers are presented, they don’t always preclude a victim from suing in the event of an injury on the premises. Generally speaking in Pennsylvania, these kinds of ticket disclaimers are adequate to prevent you from suing a sports team or venue if you are injured by a flying object during a game, such as a baseball, hockey puck or basketball. By accepting the terms of the ticket, you’re also not able to sue even if you are injured by a player who leaves the game field accidentally and falls on you as they participate in a game.

The ticket disclaimer is a legal agreement that says that you accept the risks of being there and hold the venue and team free of responsibility in the event of a game-related injury. By accepting the disclaimer, you agree to pay attention to the game and protect yourself and guests from any injuries by being aware and responsible. But what if you go to a game in a stadium and the seat you sit on buckles and you fall and are injured? What if a rowdy, drunk fan gets in your face and beats you up? What if you trip on a broken step and fall and are injured?

In those kinds of cases, that ticket disclaimer means nothing. In cases like these, even with a standard disclaimer, you can sue the venue and team for your injuries, medical bills and pain and suffering because they were not accepted risks of the event that you attended.

Of course, being observant of potential dangers and using care and common sense when attending events in public stadiums can go far toward protecting people from possible dangers or death. But sometimes, no matter how much care people observe their surroundings and the conditions around them, tragedies do occur.

If you or a loved one is ever injured in a stadium accident or incident, be sure that you get professional and competent legal advice from a lawyer who is qualified in personal injury law. The compassionate and skilled attorneys and staff at MyPhillyLawyer stand ready to assist you with your legal case if you or a loved one is ever seriously injured in such an incident anywhere in the United States or is involved in a wide variety of other legal matters. We represent the families of victims who die in such tragedies as well, to ensure that their families receive every penny of damages that they are eligible to receive.

Call MyPhillyLawyer at 215-227-2727 or toll-free at 1-866-920-0352 anytime and our experienced, compassionate, aggressive team of attorneys and support staff will be there for you and your family every step of the way as we manage your case through the legal system.