San Francisco 49ers running back Reggie Bush says he is “still strongly considering” a lawsuit against the city of St. Louis over a knee injury suffered during a November 1 game against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome. Bush suffered a season-ending torn meniscus when he slipped on a large patch of concrete near the stadium wall after running out of bounds in a play at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. The case highlights a number of issues in personal injury law, including premises liability, sovereign immunity, and assumption of the risk. The city of St. Louis’s Sports Authority and Convention Bureau operates the Edward Jones Dome.
Bush’s claim against the city would be under a theory called “premises liability,” which makes the owner or occupier of a property liable to certain visitors, called “invitees,” for injuries caused when it fails to warn of or make safe an unreasonably dangerous condition of which the owner knew or should have known. Bush will have strong evidence that the city knew or should have known that the exposed concrete was dangerous: Cleveland Browns quarterback Josh McCown suffered an injured shoulder after slipping on the same concrete just a week before. The Rams have since covered the concrete with padding.
The case also implicates the doctrine of sovereign immunity, which generally bars personal injury lawsuits against the government unless immunity has been waived by the legislature. Missouri’s waiver of sovereign immunity is similar to Texas’s, in that it is limited to certain cases such as motor vehicle accidents and “dangerous conditions” in property. Also, as in Texas, sovereign immunity in Missouri generally does not apply to cities when they are engaged in “proprietary functions.” In Texas, owning and operating “amusements” is considered a proprietary function by statute, and while “proprietary functions” are not defined by statute in Missouri, the law is likely the same.
Finally, cases involving injuries to athletes often implicate the “primary assumption of the risk” doctrine, in which sports participants are deemed to have voluntarily assumed the risks of injury inherent in the sport, and cannot generally sue for those injuries. However, courts generally do not apply this doctrine to defects in equipment or in the playing field.