When suing Chicago’s United Center after a puck hit her in the face, does the Blackhawks fan have a case?


( Jerry Lai/USA TODAY Sports)

Hockey is not a safe sport. In fact, even watching the fast-paced game can be dangerous, which one Blackhawks fan found out the hard way, when she was nailed in the face by an errant puck at Chicago’s United Center in June 2013.

The fan, 56-year-old Patricia Higgins, isn’t blaming the players, though, she’s blaming the venue. Higgins reportedly filed a personal injury suit against the United Center last Friday. The Chicago Sun-Times reports:

Among her claims in the lawsuit are that the United Center was careless and negligent in its installation and maintenance of the nets.

Because of that, Higgins ‘sustained injuries, suffered pain, lost wages and medical bills, and will continue to suffer such damages in the future,’ according to the lawsuit.

The puck left Higgins with a 1.5-inch gash that cut to the bone above her right eyebrow, the Sun-Times reports, adding that Higgins also sustained a concussion and was unable to smell or taste for a short time.

It is unclear how much Higgins is suing for, but she might have a hard time getting anything, as nearly every ticket to a professional sporting event includes a general release of liability printed on the back. FindLaw.com writes:

Generally, when you purchase a ticket, you are signing an agreement that the stadium and team cannot be held responsible for your injuries during the natural course of the game. Balls [or pucks] do fly into the crowds — as do men and sometimes cars. These injuries are usually considered a part of the game and the injured party will be unable to sue.

Of course, there are exceptions, and according to the Whiting Law Group, a faulty net negates the arena’s general release of liability. The firm settled a similar case years ago when 32-year-old Elizabeth Hahn was struck by an errant puck at a Blackhawks game at the United Center in 2002. The firm writes:

[The firm] demonstrated that the NHL was aware of the propensity for hockey pucks to fly into the “danger zones” (those areas behind the netting) at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour on a frequent basis. Consequently, Whiting Law Group proved that the NHL was negligent for not creating alternative means to protect fans, such as Hahn who was seated directly behind the goal when hit by the hockey puck.

Hahn’s settlement was reached out of court for an undisclosed amount.

Marissa Payne writes for The Early Lead, a fast-breaking sports blog, where she focuses on what she calls the “cultural anthropological” side of sports, aka “mostly the fun stuff.” She is also an avid WWE fan.

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