(Editor’s note: The following case summary involving the New York Mets appeared recently in Sports Litigation Alert (www.sportslitigationalert.com), the nation’s leading sports law periodical, which publishes once every two weeks and features a searchable archive of more than 2,500 summaries and bylined articles. Representing the Mets owners was Carla Varriale, who besides being a partner at Havkins, Rosenfeld, Ritzert & Varriale and one of the nation’s leading sports law attorneys, is a sports law professor at Columbia University.)
A New York State Court Judge has handed a victory to Sterling Mets, L.P. (Sterling), Queens Ballpark Company, L.L.C. (QBC), Sterling Equities, L.L.C. (Equities) and the City of New York (the City) in a wrongful death case arising out of a tragic fall from an upper deck escalator at Shea Stadium (the Stadium).
Plaintiffs’ decedent fell from a stationary escalator when it allegedly malfunctioned and suddenly jerked, thereby propelling him over the handrail of the escalator and onto an escalator located two floors below. He sustained fatal injuries and his autopsy confirmed that he had a blood alcohol content of 0.16 percent.
His estate commenced an action and alleged a panoply of claims relating to the security, maintenance, design, manufacture, inspection, and repair of the escalators and the Stadium, as well as additional claims of strict products liability negligence, and breach of warranty claims against the escalator manufacturer and the escalator maintenance contractor at the Stadium. The Sterling, City, QBC and Equities commended a third-party action against the alcohol concessionaire.
After discovery and depositions, including depositions of numerous non-party witnesses, the New York City Police Department detectives who investigated the accident and the New York City Department of Buildings inspector who confirmed that the subject escalator was functioning without issue before and immediately after the alleged accident, all defendants moved for summary judgment. Summary judgment was granted on behalf of all defendants because plaintiffs failed to adduce sufficient proof to support each and every cause of action.
Specifically with regard to Sterling and the City (QBC and Equities established as a matter of law that they did not own, occupy, possess, control or put to a special use the subject escalator and that they did not have any rights or obligations to maintain that property or the subject escalator), the Supreme Court, Queens County establish liability because the escalator was not defective or an unreasonably foreseeable hazard. Likewise, they demonstrated through expert evidence, that the alleged accident could not have happened as plaintiff alleged. The various escalator industry standards and Building Code violations alleged by plaintiff pertaining to the subject escalator were similarly defeated and shown to be either irrelevant or inapplicable.
Further plaintiffs’ claims that Sterling was negligent due to a putative failure to enforce its policy of barricading escalators in the seventh inning of a baseball game so that patrons leave the stadium via ramps were rejected by the court. The court cited to a line of cases holding that the violation of a company’s internal rules is not negligence in and of itself and that where, as here, when an internal policy exceeded the standard of reasonable care, that policy cannot serve as a basis for imposing liability.