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Dumont v. New Jersey Devils

September 1, 2010


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Docket No. L-4018-08.

Per curiam.


Submitted July 20, 2010

Before Judges Gilroy and Sapp-Peterson.

Plaintiff Sylvie Dumont appeals from the June 26, 2009 grant of summary judgment to defendants, New Jersey Devils, LLC (incorrectly designated in the complaint as The New Jersey Devils), and the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority (NJSEA). We affirm.

Viewed most favorably for plaintiff, Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995), the motion record reveals the following. The NJSEA owns and operates a multipurpose arena at the New Jersey Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford. The New Jersey Devils is a professional hockey team and a member of the National Hockey League (NHL). At all times relevant, NJSEA leased the arena, then known as the Continental Airlines Arena, to the New Jersey Devils for the hockey team's use in playing its home games.

On April 16, 2006, plaintiff attended a Devil's home game at the arena. The ice rink at the arena contained the appropriate sideboards with Plexiglass protection required of all NHL ice rinks. The arena also contained protective netting both behind the goals and to the sides of the goals at opposite ends of the ice rink. The netting extended to the corners on each side of each goal as required by the NHL. Plaintiff sat in what was described as the "Gold Circle Member" seats located behind the Devil's team bench at the center ice area of the stands, a distance from the goals. The seat was located above the Plexiglass protective barrier, beyond the areas of the rink protected by the netting that extends above the Plexiglass.

After watching the first period of play, plaintiff left her seat and proceeded to the concession stand to purchase refreshments. She returned to her seat just prior to commencement of the second period of play. After several minutes of play in the second period, plaintiff reached down to place her empty food tray on the floor near her seat. As she did so, a puck left the ice and struck her on the right side of her face, causing injury. Plaintiff neither saw the puck coming, nor heard warnings from any spectators in the seats near her.

On April 7, 2008, plaintiff filed a personal injury negligence complaint against defendants, alleging that defendants had breached their duty of care by failing to protect her from all known and foreseeable hazards existing on the premises during a professional hockey game, including "protecting [p]laintiff from hazards due to dangerous hockey pucks, providing screening in the most dangerous area of the spectator seating, offering sufficient protected seating to those like [p]laintiff who would seek it, warning [p]laintiff of known or foreseeable hazards, advising [p]laintiff of the option to exchange her seat to a protected location," or otherwise safeguarding her "in situations where hockey pucks leave the playing area and enter into spectator areas." After the close of discovery, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that they had complied with their limited duty of care by providing seating sufficient to accommodate any patron who may reasonably have anticipated, or desired, protected screened seating in the most dangerous sections of the stands, citing Sciarratta v. Global Spectrum, 194 N.J. 345, 348 (2008). Defendants' motion was supported by certification of Christopher Modrzynski, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Devils. Modrzynski certified to the protective measures provided at the hockey rink and to the Devils' policy that the team would accommodate any patron who expressed a concern about sitting in an unprotected area of the arena by either relocating the patron to a protected area or by offering the patron a ticket refund.

On June 26, 2009, Judge Donohue granted defendants summary judgment, determining that plaintiff's complaint was governed by the principles enunciated in Sciarratta and Schneider v. Am. Hockey and Ice Skating Ctr., Inc., 342 N.J. Super. 527, 534 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 170 N.J. 387 (2001). On August 13, 2009, the judge filed a letter of amplification pursuant to Rule 2:5-1(b).

On appeal, plaintiff argues that defendants breached their duty of care by failing to notify her "of the option to change seats because of the risk of flying hockey pucks," and that a material question of fact existed as to whether defendants had breached their duty of limited care because they had not undertaken a qualitative or quantitative risk assessment, or a comparative analysis identifying the high risk seating sections of the arena.

We have considered plaintiff's arguments in light of the record and applicable law. We conclude that the arguments are without sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). We affirm substantially for the reasons expressed by Judge Donohue in his August 5, 2009 letter of amplification. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(A).


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