June 22, 2015

Fighting at a hockey game? No way!

By Deborah J. La Fetra Senior Attorney

At a youth hockey game in Rome, New York, families of the 13-year-old players rooted for their teams with increasing intensity. Some spectators turned belligerent, and after the game ended, one player’s mother confronted another player’s mother. The provocation blew up into a full-scale melee involving multiple family members and spectators. Raymond Pink, an innocent bystander, was assaulted by Matthew Ricci, who was held criminally liable. In addition to suing the brawling spectators, Pink also sued the Rome Youth Hockey Association, which rented the hockey arena. The RYHA argued that it had no duty to prevent spectators from being criminally assaulted by other spectators after a game, but New York’s intermediate court allowed the case to go forward.

The case, entitled Pink v. Ricci, is now pending in the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, and today PLF filed an amicus brief in support of RYHA. The brief first addresses the limited duty of premises owners and operators to prevent third-party criminal acts, particularly at sporting events where boisterous and rude behavior is the norm rather than an indicator of impending criminal acts. Second, PLF points out that nonprofit organizations such as the youth hockey league in this case depend on volunteers to staff and manage the organization and teams. When youth sports organizations are at risk of incurring tort liability, these valuable community organizations find fewer volunteers willing to run the programs, to the great detriment of the youth they aim to serve. Or they might seek to defray potential litigation costs by spreading fees among sports participants, fans, and advertisers. Moreover, finding that a property owner or operator is liable for spectator-on-spectator criminal assault may cause landowners—both public and private—to prohibit youth sports organizations from using their facilities.  For all these public policy reasons, the New York court should absolve RYHA of tort liability.

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