Duck for flying hockey pucks
December 24, 2002
Holly Ann Nemarnik attended a Los Angeles Kings hockey game at the Forum on April 18, 1999. She had a fourth-row, season ticket seat. During the pre-game warm-ups, several pucks were in play on the ice.
There were several people congregating around her area. No ushers asked the crowd to go to their proper seats. Holly tried folding up her seat and sitting on the edge to obtain a clear view, but still could not see over the crowd.
FLYING HOCKEY PUCK
As you may have predicted, ultimately a puck flew off the ice – which she was unable to see. The puck struck Holly in the mouth and face, causing severe injuries.
L.A. KINGS AND FORUM LIABLE?
Holly sued the L.A. Kings and the stadium owners claiming they were negligent in failing to prevent spectators from milling around the ice during pre-game warm-ups.
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To make her case, Holly cited excerpts from the Forum’s handbook for ushers and ticket takers: “During game action you MUST stop latecomers from blocking the view of seated guests. Politely request all ticket holders to stand along the back wall – until there is a stoppage of play – politely remind them that no one may stand or congregate in or at the top of the aisles.”
Holly’s expert witness contended that the Forum failed to observe proper crowd control procedures, thus blocking Holly’s view and ability to take evasive action from the flying puck.
The Law Review has briefed several cases where injured participants in sporting events are found to have “assumed the risk” of injury, leaving them without legal remedy.
We have discussed baseball mishaps, flag football injuries, skier collisions, horse jumping incidents, rock climbing falls, bicycle races, collisions with padded ski lift towers and a little league player hit by a line drive. The plaintiffs in all of those cases lost.
Sports participants assume the risks of their injuries unless the other party like the instructor or sponsor of a sporting event “increases the risk to the injured participant over and above those inherent in the sport.”
RISKS TO SPECTATORS
California courts have long held that the risk to spectators of being hit by an accidentally thrown bat or a foul ball is an inherent risk of baseball that is assumed by the spectator.
Interestingly the law has been different as to ice hockey because hockey spectators do not assume they are at risk for an ice surface puck flying through the air. Well that law just changed.
The Court of Appeal ruled against Holly Ann Nemarnik, writing as follows: “Just as stadium owners owe no duty to eliminate the risk of injury from foul balls, we similarly conclude defendants owe no duty to eliminate the inherent risk of injury from flying pucks.”
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter-Simon, with offices in Truckee, South Lake Tahoe and Reno.