Ahh…  to storm, or not to storm, that is the question.  Aside from the joy of the big win, and the  stylistic questions about whether or not you should act like you’ve been there before, there are legal ramifications that go along with such an episode.  In the mosh pit of humanity that ensues when an overmatched underdog beats a mighty power (see Morris, Robert v. UK), people get injured.  Who can forget the scene last year when the young man in the wheelchair was nearly crushed after the NC State game?

While the majority of the time there are no injuries, sad stories, or medical bills associated with the fan pandemonium, that is not always the case.  Rick Reilly profiled a story at ESPN.com about a young man who was devastatingly injured after a high school basketball game in Arizona.  Joe Kay had just secured the game by emphatically dunking in the closing seconds.  The scene that followed left Kay with a torn carotid artery.  He suffered a stroke and is paralyzed on one side of his body.  Never again will Joe Kay play the game he loved.  Now the legal question; who’s fault is it?

According to the Reilly story, Kay settled a personal injury case against the Tucson Unified School District for $3.7 million dollars.  While that seems like a large sum of money, by the time the attorney fees are collected, and the costs of litigation are recovered, Mr. Kay will likely only see half of that money.  Injured at 18, with a life that will likely run into his seventies, Mr. Kay is left to put less than $2 million dollars toward his needs.  Needs that shouldn’t exist, but somehow do because of fans’ desires to storm the court.

Although Kay’s story is indeed gut wrenching, the larger question is, “what can we do about it?”  Who is to blame when something goes terribly wrong?  What injuries are foreseeable, and what injuries are “part of the game?”  In Kay’s case, like most all others, the theory that is advanced is one of negligence.  Much like a car wreck  or a property liability claim, in order to prove negligence an injured party must prove four elements.  Those elements are:

  1. Duty
  2. Breach of Duty
  3. Injury
  4. Causation

Without going too law school-esque on you, it means this; someone had to owe the injured person a duty.  In a car wreck we all have duties to everyone else on the road to operate our vehicles safely.  If we wreck our car, we have typically breached that duty.  If someone was injured, we have the third element, and if the wreck caused the injuries, we have all four pieces.  Take away any of the four elements, there is no recoverable cause of action.

In the court storming scenario, who has the duty?  The arena, the school, the local law enforcement?  Who, if anyone, breached the duty?  As a result, was someone injured ?  If so, we have someone to sue.  Again, the problem that we come back to is who is the responsible party?  Usually, a lawyer will look to the deepest pockets he or she can find.  That usually means arenas, corporate entities and insurance companies.  Law enforcement may  enjoy sovereign immunity from most causes of action, as do many universities.  If individuals can be traced to the injuries then a homeowner’s policy for the individual may be called into play.  (Yes homeowner’s policies will  cover this type of claim.)

Regardless, few will disagree with the idea that court storming is a phenomenon that should be curtailed.  It may take more police, suspension of tickets, arrests or other enforcement action, but it needs to be addressed.  People like Joe Kay are depending on it.

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Keith Poynter

Keith Poynter graduated from the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law in May of 2011. While in law school, Keith studied Sports Law as well as other core curriculum. Prior to becoming an attorney, Keith worked in the insurance industry for 6 years, and was a police officer in both Kentucky and Tennessee for 6 years. As an avid sports fan, former basketball official and current youth sports coach, Keith is heavily involved in sports when not at work or with his family at the lake. Keith's diverse background makes him an excellent source for legal opinion about issues surrounding the sporting world. Whether the matter be criminal or contractual, Keith's unique experience and education allows him to offer insight that may be missed by the casual fan. Keith is available for commentary on any legal issues that may arise in the Kentuckiana area and will routinely post articles concerning local and national sports law topics.

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