• Connecticut Extends the Limited Duty Rule to Owners of Hockey Arenas
  • April 26, 2010 | Authors: Christopher D. Brown; Michael J. Tortora
  • Law Firms: Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP - Miami Office ; Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP - Stamford Office
  • In Verneris v. Wang, Superior Court, judicial district of New Haven, Docket No. CV 07-5014070 (March 19, 2010, Keegan J.) a plaintiff brought suit against the Connecticut Islanders, LLC after being struck in the face by a hockey puck while attending a professional hockey match between the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.  The plaintiff alleged that the Connecticut Islanders, LLC, as owners of the venue where the match took place, were negligent in failing to provide adequate protections for fans from the dangers of flying pucks. 

    In a case of first impression in Connecticut, the Superior Court in New Haven extended the limited duty rule to owners and operators of hockey arenas and found that the Connecticut Islanders, LLC had met their limited duty to patrons to protect them from objects leaving the field of play. 
     
    Background
               
    The limited duty rule, recognized in Connecticut in the context of baseball stadiums, outlines the limited duty of stadium owners to patrons in the context of a specific peril, that of flying objects leaving the field of play.  It provides that a sports venue owner or operator that provides screened seating (1) sufficient for those spectators who may be reasonably anticipated to desire protected seats on an ordinary occasion, and (2) in the most dangerous section of the stands, has satisfied its duty of care to those spectators. See Teixiera v. New Britain Baseball Club, Inc., Superior Court, judicial district of New Britain, Docket No. CV 05 4004214 (July 18, 2006, Shaban, J.)(41 Conn. L. Rptr. 777). 

    In Verneris, the plaintiff was sitting with her husband and two minor children in the bleacher seats at the Bridgeport Arena watching a hockey game between the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.  It was undisputed that the plaintiff was not seated behind either of the goals.  At some point, a Penguins hockey player took a slap shot which resulted in the puck leaving the ice and traveling over the tempered glass barrier surrounding the ice rink.  The plaintiff alleged that she was struck by this puck and that, as a result, she suffered severe and painful injuries.

    Viewed against the backdrop of the limited duty rule, the court found that the plaintiff in Verneris could not establish a genuine issue of material fact on the issue of whether the Connecticut Islanders had fulfilled their duty to her.  The court found that it was undisputed that the Connecticut Islanders, LLC had placed a higher wall of plexiglass and protective netting around the “most dangerous sections” of the stadium, behind the goals; that the danger of being struck by an errant hockey puck was an open and obvious danger; and that the Connecticut Islanders, LLC had adequately warned the plaintiff of the dangers of errant hockey pucks.  It was also undisputed that the plaintiff was not sitting behind either of the goals at the time she was struck.

    Comment

    Appellate courts have not had occasion to consider the issue, but the extension of the limited duty rule to owners and operators of hockey arenas has far reaching implications for all stadium owners in Connecticut.   This decision, arguably, places a limitation on the duty of all stadium owners to the patrons of sporting events in certain contexts.  The court in its decision opined that it was not concerned about distinguishing between sporting venues, but rather was more concerned about the rationale for barring spectators’ claims.  Importantly, this leaves the door open and creates persuasive authority for the further extension of the limited duty rule to other contexts in Connecticut.