Blackhawks Sued After Loud Drunk Falls Two Rows And Crushes Another Fan

200px-ChicagoBlackhawksLogo.svgWith the Blackhawks heading into the playoffs for their eighth constitutive season, I am again in pigs heaven (though a bit nervous about starting with Duncan Keith in a roller coaster season after his thuggish conduct and well-deserved suspension). Yet, the post-regular season Blackhawks period before we play the Blues will not be without hockey action to watch. Fan John Cooke is suing the team after being crushed by a falling drunken fan at United Center on May 23rd. While widely ridiculed in Chicago, I think that the lawsuit raises some valid issues of negligence and could present an interesting case for issues like proximate cause. Judging from the complaint (which is admittedly one-sided), the “At Your Service” security contractor may be the ultimate misnomer for fans.

It was Game 4 of the 2015 Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks when Cooke and his brother found themselves sitting down one of the increasingly common idiots who come to games to get stumbling drunk and ruin the games for others. As I have said in the past, this is why I rarely take the kids to stadiums despite being a sports lover. Teams clearly value selling booze to drunks than drawing families to stadiums. The fan was described by witnesses in this case in an all too familiar way as a “loud, boisterous and unruly” jerk from the start of the game. He fell on Cooke who suffered a neck injury that required surgery. He is seeking more than $100,000 from the Blackhawks, the United Center and its security contractor At Your Service, LLC. It is not clear why he is not suing the fan who is currently being listed as a “John Doe.” That may be due to the fact that the identity is unknown, but may become known through litigation. The complaint can always be amended if such knowledge and I hope that it is. This fan needs to be sued and a jury might find it odd if he is not named at trial.

He is also suing Levy Premium Foodservice, the company selling food and alcohol at the arena, under the Dram Shop Act, which holds liquor businesses liable for injuries caused by an intoxicated person.

What makes the case interesting is that the drunk was reportedly causing a ruckus before the incident and various people notified security about his obnoxious and juvenile conduct. Yet, according to the complaint, the security staff did nothing.

There is an argument to be made that, particularly when the Blackhawks are profiting from selling copious amounts of alcohol, the team has a responsibility to act when a fan is so inebriated that he is threatening others. It obviously depends on the severity of his conduct and what was observable before the incident. However, fallings in a stadium is an ever-present risk with drunks as we have previously discussed. If they received such warnings from fans, it does trigger a duty to act — at least to confirm that the fan is not endangering or threatening others.

Since this was first period, this may not be a case of over-serving if the fan came to the stadium drunk, though stadiums are still under dram shop obligations in serving obviously intoxicated persons as we have also discussed with prior stories. Regardless of any dram shop angle, there is always simple negligence in such cases.

I am not sure why the team did not quietly settle this case since the publicity alone hurts the team and reaffirms why many families are staying home to watch games. If the man had surgery, this would appear to be a substantive claim and not just a strike suit. As much as I love the Hawks, I would welcome liability if it meant that these teams do a better job in ejecting drunks and jerks from stadiums. I have no problem with serving alcohol so long as people do not ruin these games for others with screaming profanities, stumbling in the stands, or endangering others. That would seem a minimal demand from the other fans who are forking over a lot of money to watch games. This is not to say that we are protected from obnoxious people. That is part of life. I recently went with the family to see the Comedy Steps in Washington (a long-running comedy group). Putting aside that the group has really diminished in past years and was surprisingly unfunny, a couple behind us made the show even more painful with constant talking and commentary. We did not however complain because people can be badly mannered in any forum and you have to live with it. However, serving booze to drunks and having them subject other fans to dangerous or out-of-control conduct is unreasonable and potentially actionable.

What do you think?

Here is the complaint: Complaint

15 thoughts on “Blackhawks Sued After Loud Drunk Falls Two Rows And Crushes Another Fan”

  1. “Won’t have to worry about stuff like this once Obama outlaws all sports except gay wrestling and the atheist Bible toss.”

  2. It was his religion….promised by the first and the one on prohibition. No one owed him anything but to leave him alone…unless he was a clear and present danger to others. Clear and present….not some statistical pigeon hole by atheists but clear and present. Ppl fall off sober to catch a ball is that the hitter or pitchers fault?

  3. These fans are often drunk before they walk through the arena doors. Tailgate parties, pre-game bar visits all contribute. The only solution is to breathalyze everyone before a beer sale is made. That still won’t stop bad behavior. A guy once threw a full beer at me trying to catch a foul ball. He was willing to sacrifice his brew for a ball and I just happened to be in the way.

  4. Again, I’m not an attorney. Just a PI who works tort defense cases. Oh, and isn’t it nice not having any Canadian teams in the playoffs.

  5. Having worked in Illinois, defending dram shop innkeepers, the plaintiff first needs to prove the fan was over served and over served by the Blackhawks. There is a tradition in Chicago[elsewhere as well] of getting snockered prior to going to the game. The point in the game is important. If this were late in the game that defense is difficult. Early in the game, that defense is plausible. You could also defend the drunk sneaked in liquor, but then you are on the hook for poor security.

  6. Lars Vegan – Budwiser and all its little beers have been sold to a European group. You would have to take the case to the EU. It does sound like the Blackhawks are liable. He may have been drinking when he came in and didn’t need more, however I would go after him, too. Maybe the surgery is over the limits of his insurance? BTW, what were his injuries?

  7. And if your venue and jury trial was in Saint Louis then they could let Budweiser off the hook but hammer the Blackhawk Indian tribe and those Chicago defendants.

  8. If the defendant was drunk on Budweiser then the plaintiff could sue Budweiser and get venue in Saint Louis and get a better jury panel.

  9. It sounds like there is an American Indian tribe involved here. I was not familiar with the Blackhawk Tribe before reading the article. Generally Indians do not handle alcohol well. I am part Osage and it is easy for me to get drunk. At trial I would choose the jury carefully and inquire as to whether any members of the panel have roots in the Blackhawk tribe. Or if the jurors have animosity to the Blackhawk tribe. Since the defendant here was a Blackhawk “fan” it would make sense to get jurors who are not Blackhawk “fans”. I would want Blues fans on the jury panel. The plaintiff ought to remove this case to a court in Saint Louis. He will get justice there.

  10. If security was repeatedly notified that this guy was out-of-control and yet failed eject him, and the victim subsequently underwent neck surgery (I get the chills just thinking about that), then I believe liability is clear. I too am surprised this case wasn’t settled. As a juror, I could very well award the victim far more than he asks for in his complaint.

  11. Chinggis say that if case go to trial defendant should get trial by jury of their beers.

  12. Is there any proof that he was actually sold any additional alcoholic beverages once he was on the premises? As you mentioned, there is some indication that he may have already been intoxicated at the time that he arrived at the stadium. Even if he did consume an alcoholic beverage or beverages at the game, itself, does that necessarily mean that he was “served” the drink? What if a friend, completely sober, stood in line at the concession stand–which often occurs–and purchased the beer, which he then proceeded to pass off to the drunken fool for the drunken fool’s consumption? Correct me if I am mistaken, but this particular type of large and extremely loud venue seems to present unique problems with regard to claiming that merchants sold alcohol to obviously inebriated individuals, as the sober friends or acquaintances may, in fact, have been the ones who were actually involved in those purchases. The drunken fool may have been nowhere in sight during said transactions.

    These events should be alcohol-free zones. Period. There is no way to control the distribution of alcohol in these types of large venues, which differ greatly from small, cozy bar, settings. No way to control continuing to sell obviously inebriated individuals more alcohol and no method to avoid selling underage kids drinks. Not to mention, once these games are completed, these liquored-up idiots then proceed to get behind the wheel of a car, now placing the travelling public in grave danger. These problems are not, obviously, merely confined to within the walls of the offending arenas. Nothing will change however, until and unless enough people are hurt or killed as the result of selling massive quantities of alcohol at these unruly events. The amount of money, involved in these lawsuits, is chump change when compared to the revenue brought in by the sale of beer to these establishments. As long as that’s the case, nothing will change. A risk that these stadiums are willing to take–a few lives, here or there, a few broken necks, here or there. No worries. The money’s good.

  13. The fan isn’t being sued because he’s not the one with the “deep pockets” here!

  14. Although there will forever be ways to circumvent any system, it is also fairly easy in this day & age from a technical standpoint to track or limit how much alcohol is sold to each seat & even changing that limit based on M/F – age & time or other factors that would be a good faith attempt at least to pace or limit the intoxication level.

    Of course I think perhaps the reason they don’t is that any attempt to do anything at all may assume fractional and thus as the deepest pocket total liability.

Comments are closed.