In a case that could have future implications for professional athlete injuries, former NFL star running back Reggie Bush was awarded $12.5 million in damages over a slip and fall injury that occurred during a game in 2015. After returning a punt, Bush’s momentum carried him off the field. He continued running until he slipped and fell on an unprotected section of concrete on the sidelines, tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee and effectively ending his career.

Los Angeles Rams Found Negligent

A St. Louis Circuit Court jury found that the Los Angeles Rams (formerly the St. Louis Rams) negligently permitted and maintained a dangerous condition to exist in St. Louis’s Edward Jones Dome on November 1, 2015 – when the accident happened. The jury found that the franchise, which moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles in 2016, was solely responsible for this dangerous condition and Bush’s subsequent injury.

Bush’s legal team argued that it was clear that the unprotected section of concrete had been proven dangerous even before the running back slipped and fell on it. Just one week prior, Cleveland Browns quarterback Josh McCown slipped and fell on the same surface and injured his shoulder. Bush’s lawyers claimed that this dangerous condition was neither obvious nor avoidable for players, as players running at full speed sometimes could not stop before reaching the concrete section.

Could Personal Injury Lawsuits For Pro Athletes Become More Common?

Lawsuits for professional athlete injuries are rare – in games like professional football, the risk of injury is often assumed as part of the game. Additionally, the teams that employ these athletes usually cover the costs of medical treatment. But in cases like Bush’s, legal action may be necessary to punish an organization for their negligence and to help protect other athletes from suffering similarly preventable injuries in the future.

While football may be a violent game and player injuries on the field may be common, teams still have a legal duty to remove and/or warn of any dangerous conditions and to make sure the playing surface and surrounding areas are reasonably safe. Breaking a bone after being hit with a hard tackle may be par for the course, but in Bush’s case, the injury likely would never have occurred if it weren’t for the slippery and unprotected concrete section on the sideline.

Have Other Professional Athletes Sued For On-Field Injuries?

Bush is not the first professional athlete to take legal action after suffering an injury due to dangerous field conditions. In December 2017, Major League Baseball (MLB) player Dustin Fowler filed a lawsuit against the Chicago White Sox and the Illinois state agency that manages their ballpark – alleging that a dangerous field condition was to blame for the devastating knee injury he suffered on June 29, 2017.

Fowler was a promising prospect playing his first game in the MLB. In the first inning of the game, he suffered an open rupture of the patellar tendon in his right knee while attempting to make a catch in right field. He collided with an un-padded electrical box along the right field line. The lawsuit alleges that the White Sox and the agency managing the ballpark were both negligent for failing to secure this box.

In early July 2018, a federal judge ruled that Fowler’s lawsuit could proceed in Cook County Circuit Court.

Damages In A Slip And Fall Lawsuit

While many professional athletes may have multi-million dollar salaries, they still have a legal right to financial compensation when a team or stadium facility allows a dangerous condition to exist and an injury happens as a result. In Bush’s case, $4.95 million in compensatory damages were awarded, along with $7.5 million in punitive damages.

The compensatory damages were awarded for lost wages, medical expenses, loss of future earnings, and pain and suffering. Punitive damages are designed to punish defendants in cases involving extreme negligence and to act as a deterrent to others. A major multi-million dollar verdict like this one can potentially force other team owners to take safety more seriously and make sure their own stadiums are free of any slip and fall hazards.

Property owners of all types have a legal duty to make sure their premises are safe and to warn about or remove any hazards that could end up injuring visitors. Owners of private businesses, apartment buildings, office buildings, and virtually all types of private property can be held liable for damages if a guest slips, falls, and injures themselves because of a hazardous condition on their property.