Joseph M. Hanna, co-chair of Goldberg Segalla’s Sports and Entertainment practice, told Law360 that there is an “untested” but “realistic” possibility that a plaintiff could bring and maintain personal injury claims for negligence if sporting events recommence while the COVID-19 pandemic is still active. The article sought to examine a proposal by the MLB and to start its season with games in one location and without live attendees—and the risk of lawsuits that such a decision might entail.
A plaintiff, Joe explained, would need to prove infection at the event, and that the league or teams “proceeded with the competition when it was unreasonable to do so because of the risk associated with contraction of COVID-19.” Such a suit, he said, would have a greater likelihood of success “if it becomes known that an athlete or staff member had COVID-19 and was exposed to the public, or in this case the other participants.”
Joe cited a wrongful death suit against Walmart filed by the family of a worker fatally infected with the coronavirus allegedly while working at a store. Joe, who is also chair of Goldberg Segalla’s Retail and Hospitality sector, pointed out how risks in the retail industry could easily spill over into sports and entertainment.
“The clearest duty, in my opinion, is that the host facilities will need to perform nearly constant inspections to ensure that facilities are safe and free from the presence of COVID-19,” Hanna said. “Then, if COVID-19 becomes present at the facilities, there will be a duty to take corrective action — remove the infected players, staff, sanitize the facility, etc. — and warn the athletes.”
“Play Ball? Attys Say Starting MLB Season Amid Virus Is Risky,” Law360, April 9, 2020 (login required)
With a national practice and industry-wide reputation for leadership, Joseph M. Hanna is consistently ranked among the top 10 attorneys based in Western New York in Business First’s annual Legal Elite, and in 2015, Joe was the youngest honoree ever to be named Lawyer of the Year in the Bar Association of Erie County’s 130-year history. Joe is also a leading voice for diversity in the legal and business communities. He is chair of Goldberg Segalla’s Diversity Task Force and has held multiple leadership roles in the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity (LCLD) as well as diversity-related positions within the American Bar Association (ABA), DRI, and other organizations.