The Ball is in Your Court: Goalpost Safety

April 07, 2011

Goalpost Safety

Katharine M. Nohr, JD
Nohr Sports Risk Management, LLC

If your organization uses goalposts in football, soccer, or any other sport, you should make yourself familiar with an Indiana case that is hot, well maybe, warm off the press, Bourne v. Gillman, 452 F.3d 632 (7th Cir., June 20, 2006). If you’ve read this opinion, you are probably wondering what a products liability case in which an injured fan sued the manufacturer of the goalpost has to do with you. A look at the history of the case as described by the court will reveal some startling facts that might be relevant to your organization.

In October of 2001, 21 year old Andrew Bourne, a student at Ball State attended a football game. Near the end of the fourth quarter of the game, Ball State actually invited the fans to tear down the aluminum, sling-shot style goalpost. “The goalpost looks lonely” was flashed on the scoreboard, which led to a crowd storming the field to celebrate Ball State’s imminent victory. Among those fans was Plaintiff Bourne, who jumped up and tried to grab the goalpost. He missed, and while he was walking away, he heard a snap. The goalpost fell on his back, rendering him a paraplegic.

Three Risk Management Lessons

The first risk management lesson that one should glean from this story is obvious: do not encourage fans (or players) to tear down goal posts. Ball State benefited from Indiana tort reform and was able to settle the case for “a paltry $300,000” as the court described it. Obviously, a paraplegic case would be valued at a significantly higher amount. Imagine the millions of dollars that might have been paid out if such an award had been allowed?

The second risk management lesson here is that security should be provided in order to prevent such incidents. In this case, Ball State felt that controlling the crowd might be more dangerous than letting fans tear down the goal posts. This plan backfired. Providing reasonable security where spectators and others might become unruly is a better choice.

The third risk management lesson is that your organization should not encourage any riotous, unruly behavior that could result in injury. Is your organization turning its back on out of control players, fans, or parents? Could the behavior lead to injury? Might a jury conclude that by ignoring the behavior, you are condoning it? This possibility should at least be considered.

Top 10 Risk Management Tips Regarding Goal Posts

Wherever you have goal posts, you are going to have injuries. Kids and players like to hang from them, fans tear them down, they fall on people and body parts tend to get scraped and mangled by loose screws and splinters. As a risk manager, is there anything you can do about this?

1. When purchasing goal posts, research your options and select the safest goal posts that are affordable.
2. Install the goal posts according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
3. Maintain the goal posts in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
4. Make sure that the goal posts are sturdy and well anchored.
5. When not in use, take measures to prevent access to the goal posts.
6. Regularly inspect the goalposts for defects and correct any defects before continued use.
7. Document all inspections, repairs and maintenance.
8. Warn against misuse of the goal posts.
9. Prevent misuse of the goal posts.
10. Do not invite misuse of goal posts.

How the Case Was Decided

Since Ball State settled out of court, you are probably wondering what happened to Defendant Gilman Gear, the company that manufactured the goal post that injured Plaintiff. The court determined “that the goalpost was not unreasonably dangerous as a matter of law”. Indiana manufacturers do not have to protect all users and consumers of the product from themselves and so Gilman Gear prevailed.

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