Latest NBA Brawl Raises Questions about Spectator Injuries


The recent brawl at the end of the NBA game between the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets raises some important questions about your personal injury rights as a spectator at a sporting event.

With the Nuggets comfortably leading the Knicks during Saturday night's game at Madison Square Garden, New York guard Mardy Collins committed a hard foul at the basket on Denver's J.R. Smith.

A scuffle ensued, with Smith and Knicks guard Nate Robinson falling into a row of photographers and fans on the baseline. All ten players on the court at the time were ejected from the game, and the NBA came down hard with punishment some 48 hours later.

Smith was suspended by the league for 10 games while Nuggets' teammates Nene got one game and the NBA's leading scorer Carmelo Anthony 15 games for throwing a punch that prompted more fighting. Robinson was suspended 10 games while Knicks' teammates Collins, Jared Jeffries and Jerome James respectively got six, four and one game suspensions for their roles in the incident.

No known injury lawsuits have been filed at this time, but the incident raises an important question: what if players like Smith, Robinson and Anthony (who all threw punches) had inadvertently struck and injured a fan? Or what if the falling Smith and Robinson landed on a fan or photographer, causing him or her to suffer a serious physical injury? The injured could use an injury lawyer to explore their options.

These questions are further intensified for the NBA as it still tries to remake it image following arguably the most embarrassing incident in the history of spectator sports some two years ago.

During a November 2004 game between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons, former Pacer forward Ron Artest and then teammate Stephen Jackson went into the stands and hit several fans after a fan threw a beverage at Artest at the end of a fight on the court.

Artest was suspended by the league for the remaining 72 games of the season while Jackson had to sit out 30 games. Both players, as well as several other teammates and even the fan who threw the cup of beer, faced criminal charges after the incident.

So what are your rights at a sporting event, especially if something happens that will not involve criminal charges like the Artest incident?

When you attend a sporting event, most organizations will include a statement on the back of your ticket stating that they are not liable for any injury sustained as a result of play.

For example, if you go to a baseball game, you are assuming the risk that you could be hit by a foul ball. Thus, you must take the precautions to be on the lookout for line drive balls. In fact, the public address announcer will often read a statement prior to the start of the contest reflecting this danger and your need to be careful at a baseball or hockey game where the playing object may enter the area of fans.

With that said, teams do still need to have personnel on hand to respond to such injuries. And players do not have the right to ever enter the stands and go after fans, nor do fans have the right to enter the field of play or throw objects at players. Such actions can lead to an immediate arrest for players and fans, and reveal the need for both parties to respect each other.

In those rare cases where a fight between players within a game spills into the stands and leads to an innocent fan being hurt, a personal injury case against the players, team, stadium security personnel and even the owner of the stadium may exist depending on the circumstances, including but not limited to the response by security and the damages sustained.

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