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Court rejects injured employee's claim arising out of Palace Brawl

Julie Socia sued two Indiana Pacers, Jermaine O'Neal and David Harrison, after she was struck in the head by a thrown chair.  As most of the sporting world knows, a 2004 game between the PIstons and Pacers was canceled after the teams, and then spectators, became embroiled in a fracas that caused several injuries.  Socia was employed at the Palace and was engaged to provide crowd control as the Pacers left the arena's playing floor.  She argued that O'Neal and Harrison re-engaged with the rowdy spectators while leaving the floor and provoked the chair-throwing incident that caused her injury.

The Appeals Court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of Socia's legal action without deciding whether the two players had, in fact, acted in the manner Socia alleged.  The Courts concluded that regardless of their own behavior while exiting the arena, the two players were not responsible for the criminal behavior of the "fan" who threw the chair.  Although Socia's attorneys argued that the players' conduct was manifestly reckless and grossly negligent, the Court ruled as a matter of public policy that they did not "cause" Socia's injury because they "owed her no duty." 

The Court relied upon this statement of the law, which is, frankly, a little incomprehensible [we quote it verbatim]:  "Duty is requires the defendant to conform to a specific standard of conduct in order to protect others against unreasonable risks of harm."  The Court resolved that Socia would have to document facts that showed that she had "entrusted her safety to the control of the defendants" in order to hold them responsible for another person's criminal act.

Seems to us that on some level, every day ordinary people entrust themselves to the safety of the people we come into contact with--in the sense that we trust they will behave resasonably.  If my neighbor carelessly provokes third-parties into unsafe behavior by acting outrageously, he--not I--should bear the consequences of his outrageous behavior--at least to the extent that the perpetrator is not collectible. Quite honestly, criminal behavior is very much a part of our world.  If it is foreseeable and preventable through the exercise of reasonable behavior, but instead occurs through another party's negligence, there is no justifiable public policy for insulating a negligent actor from responsibility.  This is yet another outgrowth of the judicial activism fomented by the Engler Majority when they controlled the Michigan Supreme Court.

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