Pennsylvania Superior Court Hands Philadelphia Eagles a Victory
Civil Litigation Update, a publication of the Pennsylvania Bar Association
By: Erin K. Aronson, Esq.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed the order denying a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict by the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, in Pearson v. Philadelphia Eagles, LLC, — A.3d –, No. 3053 EDA 2018 (Pa. Super. 2019) (Opinion by Murray, J.), thereby clarifying the duty of care owed to a business invitee, and vindicating the actions of the appellants, Philadelphia Eagles, LLC and Eagles Stadium Operator, LLC. The case arose after the plaintiff endured an assault and incurred injuries while attending a Philadelphia Eagles game wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey. The trial court held that while a person is generally not liable for the criminal conduct of another, the exception set out in Section 323 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts nonetheless controlled. Under Section 323, a person or entity can be liable where it assume a duty and then performs that duty negligently.
On appeal, the Superior Court observed that a high duty of care is owed to business invitees, and agreed that the appellants voluntarily undertook the duty to protect attendees from fights by employing a security force. However, the court pointed to Feld v. Merriam, 485 A.2d 742 (Pa. 1984) for the proposition that even when a duty is undertaken, the invitee “can only expect the benefits reasonably expected of the program as offered and that the program will be conducted with reasonable care.” Id. (emphasis added). As a result, the injured Cowboys fan could not second guess the placement of the security guards, and could not impute the duty of an insurer on the appellants. Rather, the duty remains one of “reasonable care under the circumstances,” even where a duty is voluntarily undertaken.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court’s ruling may prove helpful to landlords and other business entities whose invitees are injured on their premises, including through another’s criminal conduct, and may encourage more football fans to dare to cheer for the away team at Lincoln Financial Field.