Proof of negligence requires more than an accident and injuries. A Spectator at a rodeo needed proof of an improperly maintained gate.

Spectators are business invitees, which are owed a high degree of care and never sign a release. Any event, sport, race or contest, the greatest chance of a lawsuit winning comes from those watching.

Mahan v. Keith Hall, d/b/a Keith Hall Rodeo, 320 Ark. 473; 897 S.W.2d 571; 1995 Ark. LEXIS 296; 68 A.L.R.5th 813

State: Arkansas Supreme Court

Plaintiff: Melonie Mahan as Next and Best Friend of Shawn Mahan

Defendant: Keith Hall, d/b/a Keith Hall Rodeo

Plaintiff Claims: negligence

Defendant Defenses: no negligence

Holding: for the defendant

Year: 1995

The injured minor paid to attend a rodeo put on by the defendant at the local fairgrounds. After finding their seat, the minor and a friend went to get a drink. They then walked around looking at the event. A horse bucked it’s rider off, circled the inside of the arena then broke through the gate where the two youth were standing injuring them. The plaintiff also argued that their view of the horse coming at them was blocked by the rodeo announcer.

The mother of the injured youth sued on behalf of herself and her son. The fairground was sued and settled out of court. The rodeo was put on by the defendant Keith Hall Rodeo. The court directed a verdict for the defendant finding the plaintiff had not proven their case. No evidence was presented that the defendant Rodeo was negligent.

A directed verdict is a decision by the court that one party has completely failed to prove their case, and the other party must win. Directed verdicts can be granted at any time during a trial or after the jury has rendered its verdict. “A motion for directed verdict may only be granted if there is no substantial evidence to support a jury verdict.” Directed verdicts are rare.

Summary of the case

The injured youth was a business invitee which the defendant owed a “duty to use reasonable care to prevent injuries” to him. The plaintiff argued that the fact the horse got through the gate was proof the gate was not secure. However, proof of an injury is not proof of negligence.

The trial court agreed, finding that while Ms. Mahan had proven an accident and had shown where it had occurred, she had not shown any breach of duty on the part of Mr. Hall. It is from the trial court’s granting of Mr. Hall’s motion for a directed verdict that Shawn appeals.

The court defined negligence as:

…the failure to do something which a reasonably careful person would do; a negligent act arises from a situation where an ordinarily prudent person in the same situation would foresee such an appreciable risk of harm to others that he would not act or at least would act in a more careful manner.

However, the plaintiff was not able to present any testimony or proof that the gate was not maintained in a reasonably safe condition. “…the fact that a[n] injury, collision or accident occurred is not of itself evidence of negligence or fault on the part of anyone.”

The Supreme Court upheld the directed verdict of the trial court.

So Now What?

Two important points can be found in this decision. The first is just because there is an injury does not mean there is a lawsuit. The defendant must have done something or not done something to create liability.

The second is the identification of a very large group of potential plaintiffs. If you host/put on/conduct events/contests/races or other activities were spectators are present, anything goes wrong injuring a spectator you might be liable. Spectators are owed a high degree of care, based on the state, and you are probably required to keep them safe. Spectators don’t sign releases and if they are viewing the activity in an area where you have allowed them to stand, then assumption of the risk is probably not available as a defense.

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