Hockey Arena Operator Not Liable For Injury From Ricocheting Puck

Posted on Apr 29, 2008

On April 10, the state Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled against a woman from Mercer County, New Jersey who filed a personal injury suit after being struck in the forehead by a ricocheting puck while in the stands during a warm-up before a 2003 Trenton Titans (now the Trenton Devils) hockey game. The court said that some risk is assumed by a spectator in attendance at a sports event.

The high court reached a 4-3 decision that Mercer County Improvement Authority, the operators of the Trenton arena, the Titans, and the East Coast Hockey League protected spectators through the placement of Plexiglas and netting between the ice rink and the most dangerous seating areas. The court overruled an appellate court decision that 38-year-old Lawrence, New Jersey resident Denise Sciarotta was able to file suit.

When the incident occurred, Sciarotta was sitting six rows from the ice and above the Plexiglas. A heavy, frozen puck hit a goalpost and caromed above the Plexiglas, striking her as the Titans, who are owned by the New Jersey Devils, and the Johnstown Chiefs were in pre-game warm-ups prior to a January 3, 2003 game. As a result, she received a concussion and serious cut to the head.

According to Sciarotta’s attorney, the arena operator and franchise had a duty to warn spectators of the dangers of stray pucks. The state Supreme Court ruled that the duty is satisfied if protected seating is provided for the most dangerous sections of the stands.

The result in this case is similar to a case recently reported in this web site in which the Court held that the operator of a baseball park was not liable to a fan who was hit in the face by a baseball.