“When a crowd of people have been induced to gather on the premises, the pushing and jostling and shoving of the crowd can be reasonably anticipated and the proprietor would be liable for any injuries resulting from the foreseeable acts of the crowd” is the controlling legal concept in a case involving a Baltimore-area family’s winter visit to the Baltimore stadium where the Ravens play football to celebrate a highly successful football season.
Pushing, shoving and jostling is what Lakisha Sutton-Witherspoon and her young son say they experienced at M&T Bank Stadium in 2013 when they went to celebrate the Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl win. While getting autographs from the football players and taking pictures outside the packed stadium, Sutton-Witherspoon heard someone announce that a nearby gate was open. She took her son’s hand and started walking toward the gate. However, as they walked, the crowd surged, knocking over and trampling Sutton-Witherspoon and her son, injuring them both, according to the court opinion.
Sutton-Witherspoon testified that she saw her son on the ground with “people walking over top of him.” When found by her husband and helped to her feet, Sutton-Witherspoon said she could not put weight on her ankle and that her “pants, shoes and socks had been torn off.” She also said her face burned from the pepper spray that police used to disperse the crowd.
She filed a negligence claim in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City against the Baltimore Ravens LP, Maryland Stadium Authority and others. The trial court granted summary judgment to all of the defendants, finding that they did not have constructive notice of any dangerous conditions at the stadium. But, the Court of Special Appeals disagreed and sent the case back to the trial court for further legal proceedings.
Ravens’ and stadium officials had underestimated the size of the crowd, reasoning that the 70,000-capacity stadium would not be full because the celebration was in the middle of a workday in February and that inclement weather could be a factor. As a result, the event did not require tickets or bag checks and stadium staffing was limited.
Sutton-Witherspoon alleged in the Baltimore premises liability action that the defendants were on notice of the possibility that a large number of individuals might attend the event and that they owed a duty of care to operate the stadium and to exercise reasonable care to protect business invitees – those who would be attending the event. She said that stadium officials failed to anticipate the large crowd they invited to the stadium and then failed to take reasonable and ordinary safety precautions necessary to control the crowd that arrived and entered the stadium, creating a hazardous condition.
The Ravens LP filed a response, denying liability and asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit. The trial court agreed, explaining that the “fatal flaw” in the plaintiffs’ Baltimore premises liability argument was that the defendants had not had notice of the dangerous condition – specifically, a crowd surge — and an opportunity to correct it or to warn the stadium’s patrons. But, the appeals court disagreed with the trial court and said that it was well settled in Maryland law that one who invites another upon his premises owes the invitee the duty of exercising reasonable care to see that the premises is reasonably safe and that storekeepers have a duty to protect against possible occurrences. The court said the defendants “solicited” the extraordinarily large crowd and despite having the ability to handle large crowds, it permitted the crowd to “become too dense for proper control or safe exit.” The appeals also said that the trial court had not properly considered the defendants’ argument that their injuries resulted from a danger that was reasonably foreseeable because the defendants decided to host an “unticketed” and highly publicized Super Bowl celebration that would draw large crowds and then allegedly failed to provide adequate crowd controls.
If you or a loved one has experienced a “slip and fall,” or a similar type of personal injury, an experienced Baltimore personal injury lawyer can help you with your case. The attorneys at The Law Offices of Thomas J. Maronick have experience handling Baltimore premises liability cases. You can contact Thomas Maronick on his cellphone at 202.288.0167, the law office at 410.934.3007 or via our website for a free consultation.