Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Fan Injured in Promotional Horse Race Loses in Lawsuit Against Atlantic League Ball Club

Duncan v. Somerset Patriots Baseball Club, No. A-4279-08T3 (N.J. Super., 2010)

What Happened?

The Somerset Patriots are an independent minor league baseball team established in 1998 and based in Bridgewater, New Jersey.  The Patriots have enjoyed great success, winning the Atlantic League championship in 2001, 2003, 2005, 2008 and 2009 under the guidance of manager and former star reliever Sparky Lyle.  (In fact, the Patriots’ mustachioed mascot, Sparkee, was named after Lyle.)

Daniel Duncan attended the Patriots home game on August 5, 2006, a team whose roster featured the nephews of Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente (Edgard Clemente) and Ryne Sandberg (Jared Sandberg.)  

Duncan entered a random drawing to participate in several promotional events during the game and was selected to take part in the “Monmouth Park Horse Race.”  For this event, sponsored by the famous ocean-side racetrack of the same name, Duncan and a partner were given a horse head to carry (not the Godfather kind) and a bandanna to tie their legs together.  The race, itself, was to take place on the field, starting at home plate and ending at first base.

As Duncan went to take his first step, however, he lost his balance and fell, injuring his knee.  He claimed initially that he slipped on wet grass and did not allege any other defect that would have caused him to fall; however, he later testified at his deposition that he did not actually notice whether the grass was wet.  All of the other eyewitnesses testified the grass was dry.

The trial court dismissed the case, finding that the Patriots were not required to warn Duncan regarding the risks inherent in the three-legged race and that there was no evidence that the field was defective or had been improperly maintained.    

The Appeal

Plaintiff appealed claiming that there was a question of fact as to whether the field was defective and whether the Patriots should have warned him about the dangers he might encounter while taking part in the promotional race.

Who Won the Appeal?

The Somerset Patriots.  The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the injury lawsuit.

Why?

The reviewing court found that Duncan was aware of the hazards inherent in a three-legged race, having just participated in one with his son at a Boy Scout camp-out.  Furthermore they stated that, “walking and running on grass is a common experience, and the risk of doing so with any particular kind of footwear is known equally by the participant and the property owner.”

They felt further that the ball club could have provided warnings but this was balanced by the fact that Duncan voluntarily agreed to compete in the race.  Ultimately, the court held that the Patriots had no duty to warn plaintiff about the potential risks involved in the three-legged race.

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