Seahawks Fan’s Lawsuit: A Snowball’s Chance?

A Seattle Seahawks fan has sued New York Jets defensive lineman Shaun Ellis (as well as the team) in connection with a December 2008 incident at the Jets-Seahawks game.  On his way to the Jets’ locker room, Ellis hurled either a large snowball or chunk of ice (according to the plaintiff’s attorney) at Robert Larsen, a fan who appeared to be heckling the Jets.  After receiving the snow/ice Larsen held it over his head like a trophy.  Now Larsen is looking for more than a trophy – he seeks monetary damages.

Does Larsen’s suit have any merit?  Here are a few of the factors that are likely to play an important role in this litigation:

The Video

Ellis and Larsen both have to deal with an unflattering video.  Ellis does not appear to have acted impulsively.  He slowly walked over to a snow bank, found a rather large chunk of snow, and threw it at Larsen.  It appears to a calculated response to Larsen, who was presumably heckling Jets players.  Larsen, for his part, appears to be doing his best to agitate the players.  The snowball doesn’t appear to injure Larsen, but rather encourages him.  He looks as though he is basking in the attention brought by Ellis.

The ability of both parties to explain their respective actions, as caught on video will be vital should this case proceed to trial.  And even though Ellis’ actions appear to be calculated and perhaps reckless, it does not appear that Larsen was injured.

The Medicals

Assuming that Ellis was negligent and/or reckless, the case has little value unless Larsen suffered actual injuries as a result of the snowball.  The medical records should provide the diagnosis, frequency of treatment, permanency rating, and pre-existing injuries, if any, and will likely determine the settlement value of this case.

The Comparative Negligence

If Larsen brought a negligence claim against Larsen, Ellis is likely to counter with a comparative negligence defense.  The State of Washington follows the pure comparative negligence rule – which allows a judge or jury to assign the plaintiff a percentage of responsibility for the incident, and reduce any award by that amount.  For example, if Larsen is awarded $30,000 but found to be 50% responsible for his injuries, he would receive $15,000.  Under the pure comparative negligence model, Larsen can recover even if he is determined to be 99% percent at fault – he would then receive 1% of any award.

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