Two hockey fans get into a fight in a public restroom during a Boston Bruins game. Can the one injured seriously sue the TD Boston Garden for failing to provide adequate security?
A Superior Court judge in Boston faced that question and, not surprisingly, different versions of what happened. The man injured claimed that, after an exchange of obscenities, the other man charged him and held him upside down. But the alleged attacker says he heard a commotion in the restroom, went in and found the other man with his hands around the neck of a third person and he only tried to intervene.
Is It Negligent Security – Too Few Guards?
Security guards ran through three or four sections of the massive arena to get to the scene of the fight, as there were no security guards anywhere near the men’s room.
Another disputed fact is whether TD Garden security was even able to break up the fight when they got there, or whether it was Boston Police that ultimately stopped the altercation when they arrived.
Negligent Security: The Law
Owners or managers of property open to the public owe a duty to all of those lawfully on the premises to use reasonable care to prevent injury to them by third persons. This applies whether the actions of the third party are accidental, negligent or intentional. However, the owner is not a guarantor of the safety of persons lawfully on the premises.
But the owner or manager’s duty is limited to guarding against reasonably foreseeable risks of harm. Risks that are reasonably foreseeable are those that the property owner knew or should have known about and against which he or she could have employed preventive measures. These are the basics in a negligent security case.
This case boiled down to one issue: could a man who was injured by a fellow fan in a restroom altercation at a Boston Bruins game bring a negligent security action against the owner of TD Garden and its security vendor?
“… at a sports contest in which the game itself is inherently violent, where thousands of fans are fueled by the volatile mix of unbridled physicality and alcohol, fights at TD Garden are foreseeable.”
Judge Dennis J. Curran, Foley v. Krueger et. al.
With those words, a Suffolk County Superior Court judge in Boston answered the question, yes, the case could go forward. The ruling on February 14, 2015 means this negligent security claim can go to trial before a jury. Rejected was the defense argument that the case should be thrown out because the actions of the fan who instigated the fight were not reasonably foreseeable and therefore the Garden could not have done anything to stop the fight.
The court’s decision addressed a motion for summary judgment. Such a motion is filed when either party contends that there are no material issues in dispute, thus they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. So, the decision in this case does not make new law, it simply means there is a disputed genuine issue, so the case can go forward to trial, where fact finders on the jury decide the case.
For more information about motions for summary judgment click here. This case hinged on the concept of legal foreseeability, not as simple as it might sound. A major issue for the jury to decide is whether having security personnel in closer proximity to the restroom where the fight took place would have met the Garden’s duty to take reasonable precautions to prevent injury.
The case is Foley v. Krueger, et al., Suffolk County Superior Court Docket #: 13-CV-1054-B. It was decided under applicability Massachusetts law.
Photo Credit: “Security Guard” by Ethan Prater on flickr. Creative Commons license.