Trash talking. Tailgating. Team jerseys. These are a few of the often thought of ingredients to a good football game. It is not uncommon to see people drive miles to live and die by teams that were functionally assigned to them arbitrarily by their family or the region they were born in. Unless you’re a Cowboys fan. Cowboys fans, like Team Mystic members in Pokémon Go, actively took the middle of the road choice because the team was popular when they got there. And we rightly shame them for it.
On January 2nd, 2022, a squad of fans wanted to get close to the players. And their chance to get close got them a lot closer than they were expecting. From Law.com:
A federal judge in Maryland denied the Washington Commanders Football Team’s motion to compel arbitration and dismiss a personal injury lawsuit, finding issues of fact existed regarding whether the plaintiffs were bound to the arbitration clause through their use of electronic tickets.
The Commanders, also known as Pro-Football Inc., were sued after a group of fans fell from an elevated surface at FedEx Field, owned by WFI Stadium Inc.
The group drove from New Jersey to FedEx Field in Maryland to see the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Commanders play, and were allowed to stand in the railing area where the players passed under at the end of the game. However, after leaning on the railing, the group fell five to 10 feet to the ground, according to the Sept. 14 opinion issued by U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang for the District of Maryland.
For the unaware, falling at heights of 5-10 feet is nothing to play around with. In 2015, about 17% of work-related falls were from that height. There are variables to how damaging falls from that height can be like what you land on and where you land, but the average patron wouldn’t have to worry about that if the railings were as people-bearing as a reasonable person would expect them to be.
I know that opting for the arbitration agreement is usually the way that deep pockets want to go, but these aren’t just any fans they’re facing up against! The Commanders should have just paid out whatever the plaintiffs requested. You know why? BECAUSE THEY’RE EAGLES FANS. Have you seen how they act when they win?
Yeah… as the 20-16 score from that fateful night suggests, this is not a fan group you want an adversarial relationship with.
The legal nitty gritty of what happened should give flashbacks to anyone who still has nightmares about contracts of adhesion. The Commanders wanted to dismiss the suit because of the arbitration clause that was on the back of the ticket. Couple things though. First, the ticket was electronic. Second, the Eagles fans got their tickets from a friend who got them from a place called TickPick.
That is one letter off being a very unfortunate url.
In short, the Eagles fans recieved the tickets for entry. They did not get any terms and conditions curtailing their legal rights, just the date, time, and where to sit for the show. Should they really then be bound to the arbitration clause? They say no:
[T]he plaintiffs claimed that no terms and conditions were presented to them by the ticket-takers or displayed in their view at any time during the course of entry into the stadium.
While the plaintiffs didn’t dispute that the language of the clause would encompass the present dispute, they requested the court find, as a matter of law, that there was no agreement to arbitrate between the parties, as neither Gordon or the plaintiffs agreed to the WTF Terms & Conditions or otherwise entered into contract containing those terms.
The court’s opinion, which may have widespread consequences for stadiums honoring tickets bought from third-party sites, ultimately sided with the plaintiffs — they weren’t bound by the arbitration clause.
The matter is far from over. They still have to go to court, argue damages, and shell out lawyer fees. But they likely have a better shot at recovery in court than they do with an arbitrator that the Commanders chose.
Chris Williams became a social media manager and assistant editor for Above the Law in June 2021. Prior to joining the staff, he moonlighted as a minor Memelord™ in the Facebook group Law School Memes for Edgy T14s. He endured Missouri long enough to graduate from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law. He is a former boatbuilder who cannot swim, a published author on critical race theory, philosophy, and humor, and has a love for cycling that occasionally annoys his peers. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by tweet at @WritesForRent.