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The Pennsylvania Superior Court reverses Jury verdict for Dallas Cowboy’s fan

The Pennsylvania Superior Court reverses Jury verdict for Dallas Cowboy’s fan

In Pearson v. Philadelphia Eagles, et al., the Superior Court reversed a trial court’s decision to uphold a $700,000.00 jury verdict finding that Pearson failed to meet his burden to show that the defendants were negligent. In 2014, the Philadelphia Eagles and Eagles Stadium Operator (“Eagles) had entered into a contract with Executive Services Management Inc. (ESM) (collectively referred to as “defendants”) to provide security for the Lincoln Financial Field. That year, Patrick Pearson, a Dallas Cowboys fan, went to Lincoln Financial Field to attend the Eagles-Cowboys game with his friend, Stanley Milligan. Pearson wore a Dallas Cowboys jersey and knit cap. During the game, Pearson and Milligan went to the restroom, at which time Eagles’ fans were taunting the Cowboys fans, calling them things like “a –hole” and “losers.” In response, Pearson told the Eagles fans to “get a ring and we’ll talk.” Thereafter, an altercation erupted. Mr. Milligan pushed through the crowd to find Pearson surrounded, on the floor, with four or five people holding him down, twisting his leg, and choking him. The men attacking Pearson ran off when someone yelled “security,” or that security was coming. Mr. Milligan and another individual picked Pearson up and stood guard. When Pearson stood up, he noticed his right foot was turned at a 90-degree angle.

Eventually, an ESM employee, who had been summoned by one of the game attendants, entered the restroom, but was unable to locate the attackers. At the request of ESM, medical personnel was dispatched and on the scene to evaluate Pearson a possible right ankle fracture. ESM notified the police, but was unable to locate the men who attacked Pearson. Neither the Eagles nor ESM ever provided police with any security footage concerning the attack. Pearson was taken to Methodist Hospital via ambulance at 10:37 p.m. He subsequently underwent two surgeries at Einstein Hospital where rods and pins placed in his right leg. After 90 days with a cast on his right leg, Pearson underwent physical therapy, but continued to have pain and walked with a limp.

On August 2, 2016, Pearson commenced this personal injury action against the Eagles and ESM, alleging negligence relating to their security program at the stadium, which he claimed caused his injury. Following a jury trial, the jury returned a verdict for Pearson finding that the Eagles and ESM’s negligence were a factual cause of Pearson’s harm. Specifically, the jury found that the Eagles’ causal negligence was 50 percent, ESM’s causal negligence was 30 percent, and Pearson’s own causal negligence was 20 percent. The jury awarded Pearson $700,000 in damages. Following the denial of the defendants’ post-trial motions, including a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, the defendants appealed to the Superior Court, asserting that they are entitled to judgment notwithstanding the verdict because Pearson failed to prove that they were negligent in implementing their security program and thus, Pearson could not demonstrate that they breached a duty that caused his injury.

In any case alleging negligence, the plaintiff has the burden to prove the following four elements: 1. a duty or obligation recognized by law, 2. a breach of the duty, 3. causal connection between the actor’s breach of the duty and the resulting injury, and 4. actual loss or damage suffered by complainant.” Wilson v. PECO Energy Co., 61 A.3d 229, 232 (Pa. Super. 2012) It is incumbent on a plaintiff to establish a causal connection between defendant’s conduct, and it must be shown to have been the proximate cause of plaintiff’s injury. Lux v. Gerald E. Ort Trucking, Inc., 887 A.2d 1281, 1286 (Pa. Super. 2005). The duty owed to a business invitee is the highest duty owed to any entrant upon land. The landowner is under an affirmative duty to protect a business visitor not only against known dangers but also against those which might be discovered with reasonable care. Truax v. Roulhac, 126 A.3d 991, 997 (Pa. Super. 2015)

Here, the defendants argued that the trial court erred in concluding that they deviated from the duty of reasonable care owed to Pearson under the circumstances by not having security personnel stationed in the stadium restrooms on the basis that it was foreseeable that altercations could take place in the bathrooms. The defendants asserted, “the mere fact that there was not a guard placed in the bathrooms to monitor the patrons in no way established any negligence with regard to the program of security actually offered.” The defendants further contended that Pearson “cannot meet his burden of proving negligence by claiming that he would not have been injured if a different program of security was provided, i.e., an extra security guard stationed inside the bathroom.”

The Superior Court referenced a line of Pennsylvania Supreme Court cases that proposed a general rule against holding a person liable for the criminal conduct of another absent a preexisting duty; however, the Courts also held that there was also an exception to that rule, i.e., where a party assumes a duty, whether gratuitously or for consideration, and so negligently performs that duty that another suffers damage. Specifically, the claim of negligent performance of undertaking to render services provides that one who undertakes, gratuitously or for consideration, to render services to another which he should recognize as necessary for the protection of the other’s person or things, is subject to liability to the other for physical harm resulting from his failure to exercise reasonable care to perform his undertaking, if (a) his failure to exercise such care increases the risk of such harm, or (b) the harm is suffered because of the other’s reliance upon the undertaking. Gradel v. Inouye, 421 A.2d 674 (Pa. 1980). Pennsylvania courts have held that when a landlord by agreement or voluntarily offers a program to protect the premises, he or she must perform the task in a reasonable manner and where a harm follows a reasonable expectation of that harm, he or she is liable. The duty is one of reasonable care under the circumstances. A tenant may rely upon a program of protection only within the reasonable expectations of the program; a tenant cannot expect that a landlord will defeat all the designs of felony.

In this case, the Court analyzed whether the defendants had notice of prior incidents in the stadium bathrooms. If no such notice existed, then Pearson had to demonstrate that the defendants otherwise lacked reasonable care in conducting their security program. The defendants argued that they had no reason to believe that a violent attack like the one on Pearson was likely to occur. While the defendants acknowledged that in the past, fights had occurred in the restrooms, it was explained that these incidents occurred with such infrequency, that the defendants chose to have their security personnel more closely monitor other areas of the stadium.

Based on the facts of record, the Court determined that the defendants were on notice that there were persons who became incapacitated because of intoxication in the stadium restrooms. However, the record did not support the trial court’s determination or Pearson’s assertion that there was a history of violent assaults that occurred in the restrooms. To the contrary, the record shows that incidents of violent assaults or fighting in the restrooms were a rare occurrence. Therefore, the Court determined that there was no evidence that defendants knew or had reason to know, from past experience, that violent assaults were likely to occur in the restrooms that would endanger defendants’ invitees. Therefore, under the Court held that the defendants did not act unreasonably by not stationing security personnel in or directly outside the stadium restrooms. 

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