Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP

08/19/2020 | News release | Distributed by Public on 08/19/2020 12:14

Greenfield and Stein Score Landmark Summary Judgment in Hockey Puck Injury Case for Premiere Sports Venue

Benjamin Greenfield (Associate-White Plains) and Aviva Stein (Partner-New York) obtained summary judgment in New York County Supreme Court in a premises liability action involving a hockey puck strike injury at a New York professional arena, our client. The plaintiff alleged he was struck in the hand by a deflected puck while seated in section 115, row 3, located in the first row on the side of the arena, between the goal and the blue line and even with the faceoff circle. The shielding in place for this area comprised a combination of boards and plexiglass extending more than 9 feet above the ice/playing surface. The arena issued verbal and written warnings on the scoreboard concerning the risk of pucks entering unscreened seating areas and included warning language on the back all tickets. Following the close of discovery, Ben and Aviva moved for summary judgment pursuant to the prevailing 'limited duty rule' in New York highlighting that the arena discharged its limited duty by erecting boards and glass around the arena's perimeter that complied with and exceeded NHL regulations and arguing that the arena was not required to completely eliminate the risk of pucks entering the area along the side of the ice where plaintiff was seated, as it was not the area of greatest danger.

In opposition, plaintiff argued that he had the 'justified expectation' that no pucks could come into his area since he was seated in the first row behind and below the level of the plexiglass screening in front of him. Plaintiff further contended in circular fashion that because a puck came into an area, something must have been wrong with the shielding and the arena should have enacted further measures. On reply, Ben and Aviva highlighted that plaintiff failed to rebut that the Arena discharged its limited duty as a matter of law, stressed that plaintiff's circular logic was not sufficient to create a factual issue with regard to the sufficiency of the spectator shielding, and distinguished the cases relied upon by the plaintiff, which either involved plaintiffs struck in the area behind the goal in the area of greatest danger or where an actual defect was proven with respect to the shielding measures provided.

Judge Bluth granted the Defendants' motion agreeing that MSG is not required to eliminate the risk that a puck may enter the seating area on the side of the ice, which is not the area of greatest danger, as such a standard would be tantamount to requiring netting throughout the arena or boards that extend up to the ceiling. Remarkably, this is the first decision addressing and enforcing the application of the limited duty rule (applicable to proprietors of sporting venues) at the arena since the enhanced shielding measures (netting at the ends of the rink) were implemented in the Fall of 2002 in the wake of Brittany Cecil's tragic death. This decision comes at a critical time given the expansion of netting in some baseball stadiums, the sport from which the limited duty rule derived, which was developed by some practitioners as a platform to try and undermine the limited duty rule and argue for a higher standard in the sport of Hockey. Barring any adverse development at the appellate level, which is not expected, this decision constitutes critical case law that supports the continued application of the limited duty rule to the sport of Hockey now and going forward.