by: Mike Lyon
In December of 2014, the Philadelphia Eagles lost a pivotal home game to the hated Dallas Cowboys by a final score of 38-27. That was on the field.
What happened off the field–but in the stadium–that night was perhaps more important for event hosts, social gathering places, and entertainment arenas throughout Pennsylvania. A single altercation among fans that evening has now resulted in a huge victory for the Eagles in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, one that could have long lasting ramifications for property owners and hosts of small and large events.
On the night of the game, Patrick Pearson, a longtime Cowboys fan, was in attendance wearing a vintage Cowboys jersey. He was with a friend during the game, and the two men went to the bathroom at halftime. When they got there, a handful of Eagles fans began taunting Pearson. In response, Pearson told the fans to “get a ring and we’ll talk” (referring to the fact that the Eagles had not yet won a Super Bowl, while his beloved Cowboys had won five). Eventually, a person walked up to Pearson and threw his Cowboys hat into a urinal. Pearson claimed that this sparked a large confrontation in which several individuals began to assault Pearson by holding him down, twisting his leg, and choking him.
When someone then called “security,” the alleged assailants ran off. Security personnel—who were employees of an outside company called “Apex” that had been hired by the Eagles—arrived to find Pearson on his feet and supported by a friend and another individual. Pearson’s ankle was badly injured; his foot was turned at a 90-degree angle. Pearson subsequently underwent two surgeries, had two rods and ten pins inserted into his right leg, and was in a cast for ninety days.
Pearson sued the Eagles and Apex, alleging that they were negligent in their deployment of security at Lincoln Financial Field, which he claimed caused him to suffer injury. The parties tried the case to a Philadelphia jury in May of 2018, which returned a verdict holding the Eagles 50% responsible for Pearson’s injuries, Apex 30% responsible, and Pearson himself 20% responsible. The jury awarded total damages of $700,000—apportioning the percentage responsibility led to a net award to Pearson of $350,000 against the Eagles, and $210,000 against Apex.
The Eagles appealed to the Superior Court, while Pearson and Apex eventually settled their dispute on undisclosed terms. The chief argument the Eagles made on appeal was that the Eagles did not owe a duty to Pearson to protect him against an assault in a Lincoln Financial Field bathroom. Specifically, the Eagles asserted that Pearson’s theory of negligence was that it was unreasonable for the Eagles not to have had a security presence inside the restroom, because the Eagles knew or should have known that violent altercations could have taken place there.
The Superior Court first undertook a comprehensive analysis of the law explaining the duty of social hosts to protect their guests from the acts of a third party. The Court noted the general rule is that a host is not liable “for the criminal conduct of another absent a pre-existing duty,” although there is a well-known exception to that rule when the host “assumes a duty…and so negligently performs that duty that another suffers damage.” See Pearson v. Philadelpia Eagles, LLC, et al., 2019 PA Super 304, ___ A.3d___, at 9 (Pa. 2019) (citing Feld v. Merriam, 485 A.2d 742, 745 (Pa. 1984) (internal citation omitted)). However, the Court also noted that the law does not place a duty on a host to protect against such criminal conduct unless “the [host] has reason to anticipate such conduct.” See Reason v. Kathryn’s Korner Thrift Shop, 169 A.3d 96, 102 (Pa. Super. 2017) (further citation omitted).
Here, the Eagles did not dispute that they undertook a duty to protect their guests from fighting during games, nor did they dispute that they engaged Apex to provide security to accomplish that goal. However, the Eagles emphasized that no evidence was introduced during trial to suggest that the security program in place was inadequate or operated in a negligent manner. In fact, the only argument presented by Pearson was that the Eagles were negligent solely because they failed to have security stationed in their restrooms, and the Eagles argued that there was no evidence that they had any reason to anticipate violent conduct in its restrooms.
The Superior Court agreed with the Eagles. After reviewing the trial transcript, it concluded that the record “in no manner support[ed] the assertion that there was a history of violent assaults that occurred in the restroom. To the contrary, the record shows that incidents of violent assaults or fighting in the restrooms were a rare occurrence.” See Pearson, 2019 PA Super at 18. The court also found that the Eagles’ choice not to place security in the restrooms was justified, as the evidence demonstrated that the Eagles perceived a stronger likelihood of violent encounters in other areas of the stadium and chose to deploy enhanced security in those areas.
Pearson had separately argued that it had taken Apex personnel several minutes to arrive at the bathroom, asserting that this was evidence demonstrating that the Eagles had negligently operated the security program. The court disagreed, holding that the record lacked any evidence that Pearson’s injuries would have been avoided had the security personnel been more prompt. The court also rejected Pearson’s argument that his decision to wear opposing team apparel should have prompted increased security presence. Evidence revealed that the Eagles recognized that potential danger and had programs in place to combat it, including having certain security personnel wear opposing team attire and patrol the stadium in an undercover capacity to identify individuals who posed a threat to opposing team fans.
The Superior Court ultimately concluded that Pearson failed to present any evidence that the Eagles “were on notice that violent assaults regularly took place in the stadium’s restrooms or that [the Eagles] conducted their security program without reasonable care.”
The decision is a monumental win for social hosts and property owners in Pennsylvania. It is not enough, under Pearson, for an injured party to show that security personnel were not deployed in the specific location, or that they were late arriving. Rather, that person must show direct evidence that the host or owner undertook a duty to protect them from such an act, and that the host or owner knew, or had reason to know, that such an act could occur in the specific location of the incident. The decision would appear applicable not only to large scale event hosts such as sports teams, arenas, or concert venues, but also to smaller venues such as bars, restaurants, or cafes. When deciding to deploy a security presence, Pearson instructs that owners and hosts should consider the particular areas of their places of business that are likely to foster criminal or violent conduct and deploy security in those areas. As long as there is a reasonable basis for using security in certain areas and not deploying security in certain other areas, the owner or host is far less likely to face civil liability.
In October, the Honorable Joseph Walsh was appointed to the newly formed Access to Justice Task Force of the Federal Bar Association (FBA). The task force is composed of a group of attorneys, judges, and other members of the legal profession who will work to promote justice throughout the federal courts and system. In addition to serving on the FBA’s task force, Joe will continue to serve as the proud chair of the Montgomery Bar Association’s Pro Bono Committee.
The attorneys at Walsh Pancio remain committed to serving their communities in order to ensure that justice is dispensed efficiently, effectively, and with the utmost equality.
On September 26, 2019, Mike Lyon served as a panelist for a new presentation to the Leadership Academy of the Montgomery Bar Association on the interesting issue of serving on the board of directors of a non-profit or charitable organization. Mike’s presentation continues a long history of service to the community that is central to the identity of Walsh Pancio and continues to inspire the firm.
Mike is a proud member of the Board of Directors at Manna on Main Street, a food distribution and hunger eradication organization in Lansdale, PA and also serves as a Director for the MBA. He shared his experiences as a director with both organizations and related tips for work-life balance, practice management, and best practices for attorneys serving on nonprofit boards. Mike served on the panel with a distinguished list of presenters, including David Zellers, the Director of Commerce for Montgomery County, PA, Kate Q. Williams, Esq., Associate General Counsel for the Merakey Foundation and Chairperson of the Board of Directors of the Scattergood Foundation, and Chinwe Onyekere, MPH, System Director for Health Equity and Designated Institutional Official at Main Line Health and a board member or chair at several organizations.
On September 18, 2019, the Honorable Joseph P Walsh served as a panelist for a special presentation and continuing legal education (CLE) seminar for the Montgomery Bar Association‘s (MBA) Trial Lawyers Section. Judge Walsh, along with fellow MBA member and Lansdale attorney Marc Steinberg, Esq., presented a comprehensive discussion of tips, strategies, and procedures to use (and not to use) during closing argument in civil and criminal trials.
Walsh Pancio is proud of its long partnership with the MBA, and Judge Walsh, as a past President of the Trial Lawyers’ Section, was particularly excited to have been asked to be a panelist for this panel. The presentation was extremely well-attended.
The program has now been available by the MBA for online CLE credit and download. A link to preview Joe’s presentation, and to purchase it for CLE credit, is here.
Following a full-day arbitration in Montgomery County, Chelsea Dearden obtained a complete verdict in favor of her client in a case where the plaintiff alleged serious and permanent injuries following a motor vehicle accident. Through her own testimony and medical records, the plaintiff alleged that she was forced to miss substantial time from work and continued to suffer agonizing and constant pain throughout her lower back and neck as a result of the accident. Chelsea, whose client admitted to negligence and factually causing the accident to occur, effectively cross-examined the plaintiff and confronted her with multiple inconsistencies in her records and presentation to show that the plaintiff had not sustained a serious impairment of bodily function in the accident. The arbitrators then entered a verdict in favor of Chelsea’s client, which the plaintiff chose not to appeal.
Following a multi-day trial in the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County, the Honorable Joseph P. Walsh obtained a complete defense verdict on behalf of his clients, homeowners who were hosting a Memorial Day party for their neighbors and friends. The Plaintiff alleged that she had tripped and fallen over a wooden ramp that Joe’s clients had installed after the father of one of his clients had become confined to a wheelchair and needed access to the house. The Plaintiff alleged that she was permanently disabled as a result of the alleged fall. Through cross examination of the Plaintiff, direct examination of his own clients, and expert witness testimony and reports, Joe convinced the twelve person jury that his clients had not acted negligently in the design, implementation, or construction of the ramp. The jury returned a unanimous verdict on behalf of Joe’s clients.
The Honorable Joseph P. Walsh and Jason Edwards obtained summary judgment resulting in the dismissal with prejudice of a breach of contract suit filed in Montgomery County against a local Township. Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim against the Township was based upon allegations that Township supervisors violated a Confidentiality provision in a Separation Agreement between Plaintiff and the Township. Plaintiff sought damages exceeding $50,000. Although both parties filed motions seeking judgment in their favor, Joe and Jason argued that the Plaintiff had failed to establish harm to his reputation and that his alleged damages were speculative. The Court agreed with Joe and Jason’s arguments, and dismissed Plaintiff’s case with prejudice.
In March of 2019, Mike Lyon was privileged to be appointed as a Zone 9 Delegate to the House of Delegates of the Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA). The House of Delegates is the PBA’s primary policy-making body, and controls and adopts the PBA’s official position on a wide range of issues affecting the law, statute, and legal issues throughout Pennsylvania. Only a limited number of attorneys are appointed from Montgomery County each year as delegates. Mike joins Bruce Pancio as firm representatives from Montgomery County, continuing the firm’s proud tradition of remaining active in bar associations and professional organization.
Walsh Pancio is proud to welcome Jason J. Edwards, Esq. to the firm. Jason will focus his practice on general casualty and liability defense, as well as commercial litigation, throughout Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the firm, Jason served as judicial law clerk to the Honorable Risa Vetri Ferman of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Prior to his clerkship, he worked for the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office in a variety of roles, and received two District Attorney Commendations. Jason is a 2015 graduate of Widener University’s Delaware Law School, and earned a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Psychology with a minor in Criminal Justice from Shippensburg University in 2010. He is a member of the Montgomery Bar Association, where he currently serves as Young Lawyers’ Section Liaison for Government Attorneys and is active in several committees and sections.
Mike Lyon obtained a defense verdict following a jury trial in Montgomery County involving a severe automobile accident in Montgomery Township, PA. The Plaintiff in the case alleged severe and permanent injuries following an accident in which her vehicle was struck from the side by Mike’s client. Mike used Plaintiff’s own medical evidence and admissions during discovery to effectively cross examine the plaintiff during trial, and argued that her injuries did not amount to a serious injury. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Mike’s client and found that no serious injury requiring compensation had occurred. The court entered judgment on the verdict, and Mike continues to litigate the matter through post-trial motions.
At the annual business meeting of Montgomery Bar Association (MBA) on January 11, 2019, Mike Lyon was elected as the Chair of the MBA’s Young Lawyers’ Section and will serve in that role for 2019. The Young Lawyers’ Section is comprised of any MBA member under the age of 35 years old, as well as any member who has been in practice for less than five years. As Chair of the Section, Mike will coordinate the Sections’ activities throughout the year and will promote the involvement of younger lawyers in professional, networking, and business development activities within the MBA. He will also represent the Section on the MBA’s Board of Directors for 2019.
At the annual business meeting of Montgomery Bar Association (MBA) on January 11, 2019, Chelsea Dearden was appointed as the liaison for MBA’s Young Lawyers’ Section to the MBA’s Women in the Law Committee and will serve in that role for 2019. The Women in the Law Committee actively addresses professional and personal issues affecting women who practice law and are members within the MBA. In her role, Chelsea will assist the Committee in planning programs and events for its members, and will represent the Young Lawyers’ Section’s interests and ideas in advocating to the Committee.
In case involving a multi-car accident and several parties, Chelsea Dearden obtained a complete defense verdict following arbitration in a case in Bucks County. The plaintiff alleged that he suffered serious and disabling injuries following an accident in 2013 after having been struck in the rear by another vehicle. The driver of the striking vehicle separately alleged that Chelsea’s client then struck his vehicle, and claimed that the second impact caused Plaintiff’s injuries. Through the use of medical records, photographic and documentary evidence, and the parties’ testimony as to the accident, Chelsea convinced the arbitration panel that her client’s actions were not negligent and were not the cause of any injuries suffered by the plaintiff. The arbitrators found that the initial impact was the sole cause of plaintiff’s damages, and entered a verdict in favor of Chelsea’s client, which none of the parties chose to appeal.
In December of 2018, Mike Lyon was elected to the Board of Directors of Manna on Main Street, a nonprofit organization in Lansdale, PA dedicated to eradicating hunger and poverty in the greater Lansdale and North Penn area. Manna’s food pantry serves thousands of individuals in need every year, and reaches thousands more through its partnerships with other anti-hunger organizations and through many other services it provides. Mike was also appointed to Manna’s governance committee and will assist the organization in the appointment of new board members, officers, and volunteers to assist Manna in carrying out its’ mission. Mike’s appointment exemplifies the firm’s dedication to its community and commitment to service, a value that is central to its work both on behalf of clients and outside the office.
Bruce Pancio obtained a complete defense verdict in a premises liability case that involved disputed issues of liability, causation, and damages. The plaintiff alleged that he had been caused to slip and fall due to water that he had alleged ran in front of Bruce’s client’s property and froze over during the winter. Through a multiple day trial, Bruce convinced the jury that his client had not acted in a negligent or improper manner. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Bruce’s client.