The Situationist

The Tort Situation of the Dallas Cowboys’ Practice Facility Collapse

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 16, 2009

Cowboys FacilitySituationist contributor Michael McCann has a Sports Illustrated commentary on the tort implications of the recent and tragic collapse of the Dallas Cowboys’ indoor practice facility.  We excerpt the piece below.

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The second and more worrisome area for the Cowboys is tort law and specifically Texas law on negligence. Negligence refers to unreasonable behavior, be it the form of carelessness or inattentiveness.

Whether the Cowboys behaved negligently could be examined from multiple perspectives. Here are a few:

• Did the Cowboys construct an adequately safe facility for the typical weather conditions found in Irving, Texas, this time of the year?

• How typical or atypical were the specific weather conditions experienced by the facility when it collapsed? If the stadium was designed and constructed to withstand winds in excess of 100 miles per hour, does its failure to do so suggest substandard maintenance on the part of the facility’s operators, the Cowboys?

• How much warning did the Cowboys have about the inclement weather May 2, and would a reasonable employer in that situation have cancelled practice?

• Did any Cowboys’ personnel have knowledge or insight that the five-year-old facility could have been at risk of collapsing during stiff winds. If so, did the team do anything with this information?

• Did the injured persons have notice about the structure’s apparent shortcomings — could the injured persons have been comparatively negligent for their own injuries? (Texas, like most other states, uses a system of comparative negligence, meaning if a plaintiff is partly responsible for his/her own injury, he or she cannot recover for the percent of damages attributable to the his or her own negligence).

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The injured persons also could choose to sue the practice facility’s manufacturers: Summit Structures and Cover-All Building Systems, both of which have built other sports practice facilities, including the one used by the New England Patriots in Foxboro, Mass. In tort law, there is a very old doctrine known as res ipsa loquitur, which is Latin for “the thing that speaks for itself.” It is used in negligence cases to show that an event could not have occurred without a party being negligent. Here, one might say that a building doesn’t collapse during non-catastrophic weather conditions unless a party, in this case the building company, is negligent.

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To read the rest of the piece, click here.  The piece is also discussed by Charleston School of Law Professor Sheila B. Scheuerman on Torts Prof Blog.  For a recent Situationist torts-related post, see Mark Lanier visits Professor Jon Hanson’s Tort Class (web cast). Also, Jon Hanson and Michael McCann recently published their article Situationist Torts, 41 Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review 1345 (2008).

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