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Fatal Stadium Fall at Atlanta Braves Game Leads to Premises Liability Questions for Patrons

When sports fans enter sports arenas, the one thing that is the furthest from their minds is the possibility of a slip and fall accident. Instead their minds are on things like their favorite players, the winning odds, consuming inglorious amounts of stadium food and libations, and experiencing a level of camaraderie with perfect strangers that only a sports event could invite. However, experienced personal injury attorneys are aware of the very real possibility that a devastating accident could occur at a ballgame, successfully curbing even a die-hard fan’s every attempt at enjoyment. This is because recent years have seen a spike not only in traditional slip and fall accidents at these venues, but also in accidents of a more fatal kind.

Just this week a Georgia fan attending an Atlanta Braves Game at Turner Field lost his life when he somehow toppled over a 42-inch railing to the players’ parking lot located some 85 feet below. EMS responders found the man unresponsive on the ground minutes later. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, toxicology reports by the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office attributed his death to blunt force trauma. The city of Atlanta has seen other, similar accidents. In 2008, a spectator died after falling 150 feet inside Turner Field and just last year a fan at the Georgia Dome suffered an identical fate.

The question that immediately comes to the public’s mind when incidents like this happen is who is at fault? Spectators are quick to blame the fan, instantaneously speculating that the deceased must have been inebriated or engaging in horseplay when he fell. The truth is that if the venue owners or managers failed to follow proper safety standards they may bear the brunt of liability. They know that while fans may not be thinking of the injuries that may be befall them, there is the likelihood that an injury may occur. In fact, with so many people occupying one space, the chances of an incident of some kind are definitely increased.

Have you ever noticed the disclaimer printed on your pass when you purchase a ticket to an event? These disclaimers are the owners’ and managers’ way of attempting to avoid liability for negligence under the “assumption of risk” doctrine. Consumers ostensibly accept the terms once they make a purchase. Assumption of risk refers to the common law defense that the participant knows of and understands the risks associated with a particular activity and voluntarily exposes themselves to the risk by engaging in it. Because the consumer has assumed the risk, the managers and owners hope to pass on liability to the consumer. It isn’t a failsafe defense, though, because there are some very important exceptions.

If, for example, they failed to meet the appropriate duty of care in providing adequate protection, the defense may be defeated. A consumer may also sue if the injury was the result of something that was unforeseeable – such as falling to their death over a railing that was meant to protect them. In assessing such a case, premises liability lawyers look at things like compliance with building codes, knowledge of the existence of hazardous conditions and maintenance of the area where the incident occurred (or the lack thereof). They will also consider whether alcohol consumption played a part and whether the injury party was over-served by stadium staff. By analyzing these factors they can get a better idea of a case’s strength.