There was an interesting story recently where Minnesota experts have warned that the new Vikings stadium could be injurious to the hearing of fans. There has been an increasing push in stadium design to match the ear splitting levels of the Seahawks in fans drowning out the calls of opposing teams. However, it appears that the “twelfth man” could be rendered stone deaf in Minneapolis. While the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority said ear plugs will be available at guest services at U.S. Bank Stadium, it could present an interesting torts case for those who find their hearing reduced by attending a Vikings game.
Fans have already noticed the the stadium is ear-splitting and experts have said it may be a danger to hearing. A local radio station measured the sound during the soccer match at U.S. Bank Stadium reaching over 105 decibels. That is ten times louder than the current average of any NFL stadium. Just 85 decibels can damage ear cells.
The question is whether a posted warning will alone satisfy the liability of the stadium if it is fully aware that sound is 20 decibels above the level viewed as damaging to the human ear. While Viking berserkers were known to go into battle with little armor, they appear to have valued their ability to hear.
Is it negligence or a design defect for a stadium to have acoustics that are expected to exceed such safe levels for human hearing? Sounds is one of the most critical elements in stadium design so the acoustics must clearly have been known and likely intended by the designers. Indeed, the stadium website brags that the stadium is designed to be louder (a statement that could prove useful for a future plaintiff):
While the final determination on the ETFE’s effect on crowd noise is still being studied, stadium architects say ETFE is a more “acoustically reflective material” than the Metrodome’s fabric roof and “should make the stadium louder.” Furthermore, the new stadium is entirely enclosed, including one half of the roof being a metal deck, and with the closest fans just 41 feet from the sideline, Vikings fans will be as close to the action as any NFL stadium. The difference is that the first row of seats will be elevated an average of seven feet off field level, or roughly twice the typical height of NFL stadiums, giving the fans in the first several rows optimal sightlines and allowing them to be more engaged. The reality is that fans truly make the difference in terms of noise, which is why stadiums like the Metrodome, Green Bay’s Lambeau Field and Seattle’s CenturyLink Field are some of the toughest for visiting teams to have success.
Now that would be an interesting statement to read to a jury in some class action case involving fan hearing loss. There is always elements of assumption or comparative negligence in such cases, particularly with warnings printed on tickets or posted in the stadium. However, this appears a design that was intended to amplify sound and succeeded to a level that most fans are unlikely to appreciate until they have ringing in their ears.
What do you think?