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Pearson v. Philadelphia Eagles, LLC

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

October 11, 2019

PATRICK PEARSON
v.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES, LLC, EAGLES STADIUM OPERATOR, LLC, AND EXECUTIVE SERVICES MANAGEMENT INC. Appellants

          Appeal from the Judgment Entered October 4, 2018 In the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Civil Division at No(s): 2016-0800243

          BEFORE: MURRAY, J., STRASSBURGER, J. [*] , and PELLEGRINI, J.

          OPINION

          MURRAY, J.

         Philadelphia Eagles, LLC and Eagles Stadium Operator, LLC (collectively, Appellants) appeal from the judgment entered in favor of Appellee Patrick Pearson (Pearson) following a jury trial. For the reasons that follow, we vacate the judgment, reverse the order denying Appellants' motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and remand for entry of judgment in favor of Appellants.

         The trial summarized the facts as follows:

On December 14, 2014, [Pearson], who was a Dallas Cowboys fan, went with his lifelong friend, Stanley Milligan, to the Eagles-Cowboys game. Notes of Testimony (N.T.) 5/22/18 at 152, 99-100. The game took place at Lincoln Financial Field, which is managed by [A]ppellants. Answer to Complaint dated January 9, 2017. Appellants had entered into a contract with defendant [Executive Services Management Inc. (Apex)] to provide security for the stadium.
During the game, [Pearson] wore a 5X dark black Dallas Cowboys [Troy Aikman] No. 8 jersey to the Eagles-Dallas Cowboys game in question. [Pearson] and Mr. Milligan watched the game until halftime, when they went to the restroom. Once in the restroom, which was crowded, they got into line to use the urinals. When [Pearson] walked into the bathroom, the Eagles fans were taunting the Cowboys fans, calling them things like "a -hole" and "losers." In response, [Pearson] told the Eagles fans to "get a ring and we'll talk," referring to the winning of a Super Bowl ring. [Pearson] was behind Mr. Milligan in line for the urinal. Once they were close to the urinal, Mr. Milligan heard someone behind him yell, "Shut the F-up." [Pearson] believed this statement was directed towards him, and, when he turned around, he saw a tall, white kid who smelled of alcohol. Mr. Milligan heard the phrase again, uttered closer to him.
Mr. Milligan began using the urinal, during which he heard a scuffle to the side. Someone had walked up to [Pearson], grabbed the Dallas Cowboys knitted cap from [Pearson]'s head and threw it in a urinal near Mr. Milligan. When Mr. Milligan turned to see the cause of the commotion, he no longer saw [Pearson]. [Pearson] testified that the young man who yelled at him had lunged at him, that he put his hands up, and somehow ended up on the floor. Mr. Milligan pushed through the crowd to find
[Pearson] surrounded, on the floor, with four or five people holding him down, twisting his leg, and choking him. The man who had said "shut the F-up" may have been underneath [Pearson] at one point during the struggle, though Mr. Milligan did not see him. [Pearson] described one of the men, whom Mr. Milligan grabbed, as an "older white man in his mid 40s." The men attacking [Pearson] ran off when someone yelled "security," or that security was coming. Mr. Milligan and another individual picked [Pearson] up and stood guard. When [Pearson] stood up, he noticed his right foot was turned at a 90-degree angle.
Eventually, a defendant Apex employee, who had been summoned by one of the game attendants, entered the restroom; he asked [Pearson] if he could stand but was unable to locate the attackers. At approximately 10:05 PM, defendant Apex called for medical personnel to be dispatched to the bathroom. Medical personnel was dispatched at 10:07 PM and was on the scene in the bathroom at 10:09 PM. Security placed [Pearson] in a wheelchair and took him to the security booth where he was treated for a "possible right ankle fracture." Defendant Apex was unable to locate the men who attacked [Pearson]. Defendant Apex did not call the police until 10:20 PM. No defendants ever provided police with any security footage concerning the attack.
[Pearson] was taken to Methodist Hospital via ambulance at 10:37 p.m. He subsequently underwent two surgeries at Einstein Hospital. He had two rods and 10 pins placed in his right leg. After 90 days with a cast on his right leg, [Pearson] underwent physical therapy. He now walks with a limp and has pain in his right leg.

Trial Court Opinion, 3/13/19, at 2-4 (record citations omitted).

         On August 2, 2016, Pearson commenced this personal injury action against Appellants and Apex.[1] Following preliminary objections, Pearson filed amended complaints on September 2 and October 11, 2016. Pearson raised allegations of negligence against Appellants and Apex relating to their security program at the stadium, which he claimed caused his injury. On October 21, 2016, Appellants filed an answer with new matter. On December 4, 2017, Appellants filed motions for summary judgment, which the trial court denied on February 1, 2018.

         The trial court summarized the remaining procedural history:

On May 25, 2018, following a jury trial before this [c]ourt, the jury returned a verdict for [Pearson.] . . . The jury found that [Appellants'] and [Apex's] negligence were a factual cause of [Pearson]'s harm. Specifically, the jury found that [A]ppellants' causal negligence was 50%, [] Apex's causal negligence was 30%, and [Pearson]'s own causal negligence was 20%. The jury awarded [Pearson] $700, 000 in damages.
On May 30, 2018, [Pearson] filed a post-trial motion requesting that this [c]ourt grant delay damages against all defendants. On June 4, 2018, [] Apex, as well as [A]ppellants, filed post-trial motions[, including a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict].
As to [Pearson]'s motion for delay damages, on June 19, 2018, [A]ppellants filed a response seeking to limit the amount granted to [Pearson] in delay damages, and on June 20, 2018, [] Apex did as well. On July 1, 2018, [Pearson] filed a response in support of seeking greater delay damages from [] Apex, and on July 8, 2018, [Pearson] filed the same response concerning [A]ppellants. On July 11, 2018, this [c]ourt granted [Pearson] delay damages in the amount of $10, 897.30 as to [A]ppellants and $6, 156.16 as to [] Apex.
As to [A]ppellants' post-trial motions, on June 11, 2018, [Pearson] responded in opposition to [A]ppellants' post-trial motions. On September 28, 2018, this [c]ourt denied
[A]ppellants post-trial motions, and judgment was entered accordingly. This timely appeal followed.

Id. at 1-2 (footnotes omitted).

         On appeal, Appellants present the following issues for review:

A. ARE [APPELLANTS] ENTITLED TO THE ENTRY OF A JUDGMENT N.O.V. DUE TO [PEARSON]'S FAILURE TO MEET HIS BURDEN OF PROVING A DUTY, A BREACH OF ANY DUTY OR THE REQUISITE ELEMENT OF CAUSATION OR, IN THE ALTERNATIVE, ARE [APPELLANTS] ENTITLED TO A NEW TRIAL BASED ON THE WEIGHT OF THE EVIDENCE?
B. ARE [APPELLANTS] ENTITLED TO A NEW TRIAL DUE TO THE TRIAL COURT'S HARMFUL, PREJUDICIAL ERROR IN REFUSING TO ALLOW DEFENSE COUNSEL TO IMPEACH [PEARSON] WITH HIS PRIOR DEPOSITION TESTIMONY CONCERNING THE SUDDEN NATURE OF THE INCIDENT?
C. ARE [APPELLANTS] ENTITLED TO A NEW TRIAL DUE TO THE TRIAL COURT'S HARMFUL, PREJUDICIAL ERROR IN ALLOWING NUMEROUS REFERENCES TO INSURANCE TO BE HEARD BY THE JURY?
D. ARE [APPELLANTS] ENTITLED TO A NEW TRIAL DUE TO THE TRIAL COURT'S HARMFUL, PREJUDICIAL ERROR IN CHARGING THE JURY WITH STANDARD JURY INSTRUCTION 18.120, AND NOT IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION, IN Feld v. Merriam, OR THIS COURT'S DECISION, IN Reason v. Kathryn's Korner Thrift Shop, CONCERNING THE DUTY OWED BY [APPELLANTS] TO [PEARSON]?
E. ARE [APPELLANTS] ENTITLED TO A NEW TRIAL DUE TO THE TRIAL COURT'S HARMFUL, PREJUDICIAL ERROR IN REFUSING TO RULE UPON THE ISSUE OF WHETHER THE JURY WOULD BE CHARGED WITH COMPARATIVE NEGLIGENCE AND WHETHER THE ISSUE WOULD BE SUBMITTED TO THE JURY UNTIL AFTER THE CLOSING ARGUMENTS TOOK PLACE?

Appellants' Brief at 4-5.

         For their first issue, Appellants argue that the trial court erred in denying their motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (judgment n.o.v. or JNOV). We recognize the following standard of review:

We will reverse a trial court's grant or denial of a judgment notwithstanding the verdict only when we find an abuse of discretion or an error of law that controlled the outcome of the case. Further, the standard of review for an appellate court is the same as that for a trial court.
There are two bases upon which a judgment [notwithstanding the verdict] can be entered; one, the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law and/or two, the evidence is such that no two reasonable minds could disagree that the outcome should have been rendered in favor of the movant. With the first, the court reviews the record and concludes that, even with all factual inferences decided adverse to the movant, the law nonetheless requires a verdict in his favor. Whereas with the second, the court reviews the evidentiary record and concludes that the evidence was such that a verdict for the movant was beyond peradventure.

United Envtl. Grp., Inc. v. GKK McKnight, LP, 176 A.3d 946, 959 (Pa. Super. 2017) (quoting Shiflett v. Lehigh Valley Health Network, Inc., 174 A.3d 1066, 1081 (Pa. Super. 2017)).

         Appellants assert that they are entitled to judgment notwithstanding the verdict based on their contention that Pearson "failed to set forth a prima facie case of negligence against [Appellants]." Appellants' Brief at 17. Specifically, Appellants contend that Pearson failed to prove that Appellants were negligent in implementing their security program and thus, Pearson could not demonstrate that Appellants breached a duty that caused his injury.

         In any case alleging negligence, the plaintiff has the burden to prove the following four elements: "1. [a] duty or obligation recognized by law[, ] 2.[a] breach of the duty[, ] 3. [c]ausal connection between the actor's breach of the duty and the resulting injury[, and] 4. [a]ctual loss or damage suffered by complainant." Wilson v. PECO Energy Co., 61 A.3d 229, 232 (Pa. Super. 2012) (quoting Cooper v. Frankford Health Care System, Inc., 960 A.2d 134, 140 n.2 (Pa. Super. 2008) (citation omitted). "[I]t is incumbent on a plaintiff to establish a causal connection between defendant's conduct, and it must be shown to have been the proximate cause of plaintiff's injury." Lux v. Gerald E. Ort Trucking, Inc., 887 A.2d 1281, 1286 (Pa. Super. 2005) (quotations and citation omitted).

         "The duty owed to a business invitee is the highest duty owed to any entrant upon land. The landowner is under an affirmative duty to protect a business visitor not only against known dangers but also against those which might be discovered with reasonable care." Truax v. Roulhac, 126 A.3d 991, 997 (Pa. Super. 2015) (en banc) (quotations and citation omitted). This Court has explained:

In determining the scope of duty property owners owe to business invitees, we have relied on Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343, which provides:
A possessor of land is subject to liability for physical harm caused to his invitees by a condition on the land, if but only if, he:
(a) knows or by the exercise of reasonable care would discover the condition, and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk to such invitees, and
(b) should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger, or will fail to protect themselves against it, and
(c) fails to exercise reasonable care to protect them against the danger.
See Neve v. Insalaco's, 771 A.2d 786, 790 (Pa. Super. 2001) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343).
An invitee must demonstrate that the proprietor deviated from its duty of reasonable care owed under the circumstances. Id. at 791. Thus, the particular duty owed to a business invitee must be determined on a case-by-case basis. . . .

Campisi v. Acme Markets, Inc., 915 A.2d 117, 119-20 (Pa. Super. 2006) (some citations omitted).

         Appellants argue that the trial court erred in concluding that they deviated from the duty of reasonable care owed to Pearson under the circumstances by not having security personnel stationed in the stadium restrooms on the basis that it was foreseeable that altercations could take place in the bathrooms. Appellants assert, "[t]he mere fact that there was not a guard placed in the bathrooms to monitor the patrons in no way established any negligence with regard to the program of security actually offered." Appellants' Brief at 21. Appellants contend that Pearson "cannot meet his burden of proving negligence by claiming that he would not have been injured if a different program of security was provided, i.e., an extra security guard stationed inside the bathroom." Id. (emphasis in original).

         In support of this argument, Appellants rely on our Supreme Court's decision in Feld v. Merriam, 485 A.2d 742 (Pa. 1984). In Feld, the plaintiffs had just returned to their assigned parking space in the parking garage of their apartment complex when three armed individuals assaulted them and held them at gunpoint. Id. at 744. The plaintiffs sued the owners of the apartment complex, "alleging a duty of protection owed by the landlord, the breach of the duty, and injuries resulting therefrom." Id. at 744-45. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs and this Court affirmed. Id.

         On appeal to the Supreme Court, "[t]he threshold question is whether a landlord has any duty to protect tenants from the foreseeable criminal acts of third persons, and if so, under what circumstances." Id. at 745. ...


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