Nice Save – Hockey Spectator Take a Puck in the Head; Team and Arena Not Liable (CT)

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Lukacko v. Connecticut Islanders, LLC (Connecticut)

Plaintiff and his wife were spectators at an American Hockey League (“AHL”) game at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Connecticut.  At some point during the hockey match, a puck left the ice surface, traveled over the tempered glass barrier surrounding the rink, and struck plaintiff, causing a head laceration, scarring and emotional and physical distress.  Plaintiff filed a complaint against the hockey team and the arena operator alleging numerous counts of negligent conduct.

In response. the defendants claimed that the arena had typical protections for fans and patrons of the hockey game, including “plexiglass walls above the dasher boards surrounding the rink and netting placed at either end of the rink, in the most dangerous sections of the Arena in accordance with the approved standards of the [AHL].”  Plaintiff was not sitting at either end of the rink or behind the goals.  The defendants asked the Superior Court to adopt the “limited duty rule” (also referred to as the “baseball rule”), which is different from the general negligence standard.  Under the “limited duty rule,” once the defendant facility “has provided adequately screened seats for all those desiring them, the [facility] owner has fulfilled his duty of care as a matter of law.”  The Court explained that “[t]he limited duty rule holds that the stadium owner/operator is only responsible for screening the spectator seats in the most dangerous section of the field (in baseball, the area behind home plate).”

Plaintiff argued that the “limited duty rule” had never been adopted or discussed by the Connecticut Supreme Court of Appellate Court.  The court reviewed prior Connecticut Superior Court decisions applying the rule in the context of baseball and hockey.  The court also looked at the application of the rule in other jurisdictions, ultimately adopting the rule in the case at hand.

Plaintiff further contended that the rule itself presented an genuine issue of material fact for the fact finder in terms of what constituted the most dangerous seating section in the arena.  Plaintiff offered a declaration from an expert that postulated that the arena had not met met the standard of care followed throughout North American and Europe.  However, the court noted that there was no evidence that the standards offered by the expert had been accepted, adopted, or implemented by the various professional or amateur hockey communities or stadium owners and operators.  Moreover, the court highlighted that it appeared that the facility was in compliance with the rules and recommendations of the AHL and the National Hockey League, and the the referees had inspected the safety items prior to the commencement of the game on the day of the incident.

Granting the defendants’ motion, the court also concluded that the arena had “met its limited duty to protect spectators by placing a higher wall of plexiglass and protective netting over the most dangerous area of the stadium, the area behind the goals; the possibility that the plaintiff could be struck by a hockey puck during the game was an open and obvious danger; and the defendant adequately warned the plaintiff of the danger of errant pucks through disclaimers on the ticket and an announcement over the public announcement system.”  The following language was found on the back of plaintiff’s ticket:

“WARNING: PUCKS, HOCKEY STICKS, BALLS, BATS, RACQUETS AND OTHER FLYING OBJECTS FLYING INTO SPECTATOR AREA CAN CAUSE SERIOUS INJURY. BE ALERT AT ALL TIMES WHEN IN SPECTATOR AREAS …”

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