Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Heading Off Speculation Regarding the Lawsuit Against the Mets

As a lawyer, Mets fan, and native New Yorker, I want to take a moment and try and clarify something about the article published today in the New York Post (and other places) regarding a lawsuit against the Mets. As many already knew, the Mets (among others) were being sued for the injuries that a woman sustained when a drunken man fell on her at Shea Stadium in 2007. She broke a vertebrae or two, lawyered up, things got filed, and here we are.

And then the Post, the worst of the muck-raking New York papers, gets a hold of the story:

Maybe they should post signs: Beware of Falling Fat Fans.

A woman who says her back was broken when a 300-pound drunk dropped on top of her at a Mets game should have been looking up, instead of watching the action on the field, the team suggests in court filings.

In papers filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, Mets' lawyers say Ellen Massey's "injuries and damages" on opening day in 2007 "were caused in whole or in part or were contributed to by [her] culpable conduct," and "such alleged damages should be fully or partially diminished by such culpable conduct."


The blame-the-victim defense is one of nine offered up by the Mets as to why they aren't liable for Massey's injuries. The team also points the finger at the stadium's beer vendor and the fan who fell, who filings reveal is a New Jersey man named Timothy Cassidy.

I'm not going to get into the legal details, but let me say a few things here.

- 1 -
First of all, the Post is awful. Either the author 1) knows NOTHING about the legal system or 2) is intentionally misleading the readers of the article into thinking that the Mets are being tasteless/unethical in providing that affirmative defense in their answer. Either of those options are unpalatable to me. It is irresponsible of the Post.

- 2 -
Generally speaking, a defendant needs to raise IN THEIR ANSWER any affirmative defense they plan on raising at any point during the trial. Early in a trial, many or most of the specific facts of the trial are unknown to the parties. They need to plead anything and everything at the outset of the case.

The Mets are wise to have included that as a potential defense. It is legal boilerplate. Their lawyers would have committed malpractice had they NOT included it.

- 3 -
We truly do not know the facts of the case yet. It is truly a shame that in our legal system, so many people obtain a copy of the complaint and read and accept the facts of it as true. The truth is, we don't know exactly what happened yet. It may be that she DID, in fact, contribute to her injuries. Maybe she bought him beer herself. Maybe he said "OH NO I APPEAR TO HAVE LOST MY BALANCE AND WILL FALL ON THIS WOMAN IN FRONT OF ME" before he fell, and she ignored it.

The point is, any number of things may or may not be proven at trial. In our system - which is a "notice pleading" system - parties are obligated to plead whatever claims or affirmative defenses they MAY raise at trial and put their opponent ON NOTICE of it.[1]

The law gets complex at this point, but suffice to say, it is ridiculous to draw conclusions at this point. This is standard legal practice. This is how our system is, and should be, structured. This is an irresponsible article, and I hope it does not gain momentum.

[1] Hell, the fact that the Mets are in the lawsuit to begin with is part of the legal game as well. The odds that the Mets did anything to contribute to this injury is probably no more than fantasy. The reality however is that, as the "deep pocketed" defendant, they may be found liable in part for the damages if it turns out that the most liable defendant cannot pay the plaintiff for all of her injuries.

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