Wednesday, December 17, 2008, 6:00 PM

COA: Trial Court Erred In Kicking Soccer Injury Suit

Yesterday in Allred v. Capital Area Soccer League, Inc. the NC Court of Appeals (COA) revived a personal injury action brought by a soccer spectator.

Plaintiff attended a women's professional soccer match. She was in the stands behind one of the goals during pre-game warm-ups. One of these balls sailed over the goal and struck her in the head. She sued the Capital Area Soccer League, Inc. and CASL Soccer Properties LLC, one of which owned the facility. Her complaint alleged they were negligent in: (1) failing to warn patrons of the risk of being struck by a soccer ball leaving the field of play; (2) failing to provide a safe environment for patrons; and (3) failing to install protective netting behind the goals to protect spectators. The trial court dismissed the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6).

The COA reversed, invoking the principle that "it is rare that a negligence claim should be dismissed upon the pleadings" and that "[s]uch dismissals should be limited to cases where there is a clear, affirmative allegation of a fact that necessarily defeats a plaintiff's claims." The COA observed that cases dealing with spectator injuries at sporting events are typically resolved at the summary judgment or trial stage.

But in a 2002 case, involving a baseball spectator's case (brain damage caused by foul ball), the COA affirmed a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal. The COA distinguished that case yesterday, observing that "the law concerning spectator injuries at baseball games has been more fully developed than that at soccer games." Hmm.

The COA held that plaintiff's complaint adequately alleged that defendants owed and breached a duty of reasonable care. With respect to the duty to warn, the COA held that the complaint didn't establish that the danger was known (actually or constructively) or so obvious that plaintiff should've been aware of it. The COA highlighted the complaint's allegation that plaintiff "had no knowledge or underlying information that there was a significant risk of being struck by a soccer ball when attending such events at this facility." The COA added, however, that this allegation, while sufficient to get past Rule 12(b)(6), may not be sufficient to withstand summary judgment: "Whether the plaintiff had knowledge of the danger is not limited to her experience at this particular stadium, but would encompass her knowledge of soccer in general, and of the sport derived from attendance at other venues," the COA said. "Further, the issue of whether a condition was open and obvious is also to be analyzed by whether the conditions were so obvious and apparent that they reasonably may be expected to be discovered."

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