Athletic Facility Management Facility Liability Thesis

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Athletic Facility Management

"Facility liability is not predicated on the type of facility.

Rather, legal liability is based on the types of clientele who attend or use the facility, and the nature of the activities taking place in the facility"

Bernard P. Maloy (1993, ¶ 1).

The "Invitee"

The recreation and sport and world, according to Bernard P. Maloy (1993), Associate Professor, University of Michigan, typically cater to two types of client or customer. In the article, "Legal obligations related to facilities," Maloy explains that these individuals include the spectator and the user (denotes a participant or a player). The spectator at the facility typically pays an admission fee to attend and observe a particular event. The user may have also paid a membership fee or charge to utilize the facility. In both scenarios, albeit, "the payment of the fee to enter or use the facility legally establishes the spectator or the user as an 'invitee' on the premises. It is also possible, however, for spectators and users to be considered invitees without paying fees" (Maloy (1993, ¶ 2). For instance, a facility may sponsor an activity, aimed to attract public attendees or users without charging admission. This research paper, which examines a number of legalities relating to the running of high school athletic facilities (stadiums) for the purpose of hosting high school athletic events in which the public is an "invitee," relates some of the legal issues and liabilities school districts that own stadiums consequently "take on" in this common scenario.

Maloy (1993) also notes that students are typically deemed as "invitees" on school ground during school-sponsored events and/or when school is in session. An example of this is seen in the case, Curtis v. State of Ohio (1986). Here, "the court found an athlete injured in a facility at Ohio State University to be an invitee to whom certain safety obligations were owed" (Maloy, 1993, ¶ 3). Students attending a high school football game are another example of students being considered invitees.

High School Athletic Facilities Liability

In Money and Schools, David C. Thompson, Faith E. Crampton, and R. Craig Wood (2008) explain that in regard to schools, difference in liability exists. This distinction relates to educational activities evolving from other school-sponsored events not central to the school's educational mission. For instance, athletic events that occur during hours outside of scheduled school sessions or other voluntary events may summon a dissimilar liability threshold than class field trips incur. Rulings regarding particular distinctions, nevertheless, are not consistent even though they may include similar circumstances.

One incident, for example, involved an accident when one "invitee" spectator in Sawaya was injured after a bleacher railing failed at a game occurring in the stadium where two districts had rented a football stadium from a third district. As the Arizona State Supreme Court found the event to be proprietary for the third district owning the stadium, it held the third district liable. Another case, albeit, though basically an identical case, merited an opposite verdict. In Richards, a Michigan court did not find any liability, as it held that the district did not aim to earn any profit from the hosted event which it reportedly only provided as an educational activity.

According to Thompson, Crampton, and Wood (2008), the controlling component regarding liability for athletic facilities appears to evolve from the way individual states have ruled on immunity. A Michigan court in Ross, for example, ruled: "When a governmental agency engages in mandated or authorized activities, it is immune from tort liability unless the activity is proprietary in nature" (Thompson, Crampton, & Wood, p. 336). In yet another case, a Texas courts argued in Stout, "Since a school district is purely a governmental agency... It performs no proprietary functions separate from governmental functions" (Ibid.). Consequently, interpretation of state legislative intent determines liability for proprietarily acts. This liability may also be subject to abrogating immunity, as well as, additionally subject to state courts' perception toward the government's immunity and liability (Thompson, Crampton, & Wood, 2008).

Athletic facilities regularly encounter risks when hosting high school athletic events for invitees. Participatory risks, one classification for risks they may encounter, are generated by the event or activity. "When a spectator enters a stadium, arena, or school gym to watch a sport event[, however], the spectator usually assumes the risk of injury from a natural occurrence of the event itself" (Maloy, 1993, ¶ 8).. For the spectator, these risks can include [yet not limited to] baseball foul balls, errant hockey pucks, or golf balls." Athletic facility managers could benefit from recognizing that not all participatory risk or hazards merit the same legal burdens. The following list denotes a number of potential factors, however does not include all, that could contribute to participatory risks:

Unintentional body contact,

Wet grass, or Falling on the floor (Maloy, 1993, ¶ 8).

In regard to participatory risks, as well as facility risks, another category of potential risk factors, athletic facility managers need to ensure they relate clear and concise messages to the spectators regarding warnings or dangers of the athletic facility they visit. "A facility has the obligation to take reasonable precautions to keep spectators and users safe" (Maloy, 1993, ¶ 15). The following three legal obligations directly relate to facility operations:

1. Inspecting the facility,

2. Warning of unknown risks or dangers,

3. Maintaining and/or repairing the facility (Maloy, 1993).

The athletic facility management needs to "own" a safety obligation to regularly inspect the facility's premises. "Premises can include buildings, playing fields, walkways, parking lots, and fences. This obligation is the foundation for all other safety obligations" (Maloy, 1993, ¶ 15). Unless the management prudently performs this function, other safety obligations will not likely be effectively accomplished.

In regard to "warning of unknown risks or dangers," the athletic facility management owes needs fulfill this distinctive safety obligation for the following three reasons.

1. First, it is owed to persons who have paid, or were invited, to use the facility

(invitees); and, it is an obligation owed to persons who are on the premises simply with the permission of the facility (licensees).

2. Second, it refers solely to facility risks, not participatory risks.

3. Finally, the risks are not apparent to the spectator or user. (Maloy, 1993, ¶ 20).

Maintaining and/or repairing the athletic facility constitutes a major step the management may implement to help decrease the facility's exposure to liability. Along with "a duty to maintain or repair the facility. This duty is independent of the inspection process[,… and serves as] a proactive obligation to maintain the facility, not merely a reactive obligation to fix defects which have been discovered" (Maloy, 1993, ¶ 23). In the legal sense, spectators and users may assume the management of the athletic facility operates the facility according to a comprehensive maintenance plan.

Despite the athletic facility management's efforts to regularly inspect the facility, warn the invitees of unknown risks or dangers, and maintaining and/or repair the facility (Maloy, 1993), dangers may still exists when a school district rents their stadium out for special events. One case filed in the court of appeals twelfth court of appeals district Tyler, Texas in 2005 reflects this scenario. Court records show that on December 5, 2003, the Fowlers (spectators) attended a high school football playoff game between Gilmer High School and Atlanta High School, two Texas public schools. "During that event, Bridget Fowler slipped and fell, breaking her leg" (In the court…, 2005, p.1). Approximately two years after that fall, the Fowlers sued the Tyler Independent School District claiming that hazardous conditions existed at the stadium when the football game was played. The Fowlers further asserted that the facility did not have any warning signs posted on site. They also claimed that the stadium had not been inspected for dangerous conditions.

In response, Tyler Independent School District filed a plea with the court, claiming that the school district enjoyed sovereign immunity from suit.

Public schools are conducted for the benefit of the entire state . . . And it matters not whether such schools are conducted by the trustees of a common school district or trustees of an independent district. It is not a function undertaken for the private advantage and benefit of the locality and its inhabitants. . . . Education is not of local interest, but is statewide. The state is interested as much in one child's education as another's, and it matters not in what locality it resides.

(In the court…, 2005, p. 3)

In the journal publication, "Event and venue management: Minimizing liability through effective crowd management techniques," Je'anna Lanza Abbott and Morgan W. Geddie (2001), Conrad N. Hilton College, University of Houston, analyze case studies regarding positive and negative management procedures, particularly understanding how to manage crowds during events, and identifying risks managers face when hosting events. According to Abbott and Geddie, "Crowd management procedures involve planning an event, training employees, forming scenarios, and collecting data. Crowd control techniques include creating situation models and decision-making processes… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Athletic Facility Management Facility Liability.  (2009, July 15).  Retrieved February 19, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/athletic-facility-management/1572850

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"Athletic Facility Management Facility Liability."  Essaytown.com.  July 15, 2009.  Accessed February 19, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/athletic-facility-management/1572850.