Football is the prototypical contact sport in which participants may suffer many injuries. In addition, there is the potential for spectators to be injured during the course of the game. This article addresses situations in which spectators and participants may recover in a tort action for injuries that they suffer as a result of viewing a football game or participating in such a contest.
Premises owner’s duty
An owner of a football stadium or field must exercise ordinary care to prevent injuries to spectators and participants. The owner is not required to provide screens in front of the spectators, as an owner of a baseball stadium is required to do, because a football that is thrown or kicked is not inherently dangerous. The owner is also under no duty to erect barriers on the field to prevent injuries to those who view the game on the sidelines and are hit by participants coming off the field with speedy momentum from a play.
Breach of duty to spectators
An owner of a football stadium or field may be found negligent in constructing or maintaining bleachers, stairs, or seats. Owners may be held to have knowledge that spectators during the normal course of a game will even stand on their seats out of exuberance for the football game. Thus, a broken seat during such activity may cause an injury for which the owner may be liable.
Breach of duty to participants
An owner of a football stadium or field may be negligent for failing to maintain the facilities in a safe condition. Thus, the existence of obstacles on the field or the sidelines or the poor maintenance of the field may give rise to the owner’s liability if such items cause injuries to participants.
A products liability action may be brought against a manufacturer or supplier of football equipment if defective equipment causes an injury to a participant.
An owner may successfully claim that a spectator who was injured by a participant on the sidelines assumed the risk of viewing the game in a location in which injuries are possible. In addition, if such spectator failed to avoid the injury because he was not paying attention to the game, he may also be guilty of contributory negligence.
A participant in a football game assumes the risks inherent in the sport, including being tackled and injured. He also assumes the risk of playing on an unlevel field caused by falls and divots made by the participants. However, he does not assume the risk that unnatural or dangerous obstacles would be on the field or sidelines.
A participant who is sued for tackling another participant in an extremely rough manner will most likely be successful in defending such a suit because an injury from a tackle is a normal risk inherent in the game.