Denver Broncos linebacker Aaron Patrick is suing the NFL, the Los Angeles Chargers, and ESPN for an injury he sustained on the sidelines during a Monday Night Football game between the Broncos and the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium.
The injury occurred immediately after Patrick attempted to tackle Chargers punt returner,
DeAndre Carter, near the 21-yard line. During that play, Patrick's momentum carried him off the
field and onto the sideline, where his cleats became lodged in the cords and cables connected to
the NFL's instant replay monitor. Despite attempting to avoid contact, he collided with the NFL's
TV Liaison and suffered a torn ACL, ending his season. He is a member of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), and thus, the conditions of his employment are set by a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the NFLPA and the NFL.
Patrick then filed various claims of negligence and premises liability against the NFL, ESPN, the
Los Angeles Rams, and the Chargers. He contends that the League and Chargers negligently
permitted and maintained a dangerous condition in SoFi Stadium, creating an unreasonable risk
of injury. Premises liability is a type of negligence claim that arises from a breach of landowner's
duty to maintain their land in a reasonably safe condition. He demands compensation for pain
and suffering; emotional distress; loss of income, including salary and forgone bonuses; and
continued economic loss given the injury's destructive impact on his NFL career.
The NFL and Chargers petitioned for removal from state court to federal court to focus on
fighting the case on the grounds of the league's CBA with the players. They later asked to have
the case dismissed, arguing that Mr. Patrick's claims are preempted by the CBA between the
NFL and the NFLPA. Article 39 of the CBA requires "every stadium in which an NFL game is to
be played" to comply with the mandatory practices delineated in the Field Surfaces Manual. The
NFL and the Chargers contend that the court cannot evaluate whether they were negligent
without evaluating whether they complied with the mandatory practices. Thus, they argue that
Mr. Patrick's claim is really a breach of contract claim masquerading as a tort claim.
According to Defendants, their potential liability to Patrick in these claims solely arises from the
CBA because, under California law, "there is no duty of care to protect a sports participant
against risks of injury that are inherent in the sport itself." The risk of injury arising from a
collision with the objects on the sidelines is an inherent risk of professional football, whether
those objects are other players or team staff, benches, coolers, camera equipment, or audiovisual
equipment with their attendant cables and cords.
Whenever the NFL or one of its clubs is sued by a player in court, they argue that the claims
(usually state common law tort claims) are "preempted" by Section 301 of the Labor
Management Relations Act. Under well-established and controlling Supreme Court precedent,
any claim whose resolution is substantially dependent upon analysis of the terms of a CBA is
preempted. In other words, claims that are inextricably intertwined with the terms and provisions
of the agreement cannot proceed in court. The intended and frequent result is the dismissal of the
claims. Notwithstanding, preemption doesn't always lead to NFL players losing lawsuits. In
2018, a St. Louis jury awarded Reggie Bush $12.5 million in damages for injuries he incurred while playing for the San Francisco 49ers in 2015 when he slipped on an uncovered concrete surface in the Edward Jones Dome.
The NFL-NFLPA CBA contains grievance arbitration procedures that Patrick did not pursue.
Consequently, his claims against the NFL and Chargers were dismissed in their entirety on
September 21, 2023. He cannot litigate the negligence and liability claims against the NFL and
Chargers. Instead, he must follow the stipulated grievance procedure outlined in the CBA before
seeking further court intervention.
Madelyn Feyko is a 2L at the Hofstra Law and is the Vice President of Sports for the Sports and
Entertainment Law Society. She can be found on LinkedIn at the following link:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/madelyn-feyko-8942b520a/ or on Twitter @madelyn_feyko.