With the National Hockey League (NHL) back in full swing, thousands upon thousands of fans will enter the 30 NHL arenas and hear the above phrase. After hearing this several times it will likely become white noise, but this warning is in place for a very specific purpose and failure to warn the attendees could have grave (and expensive!) ramifications.
It has been over a decade since the National Hockey League mandated the installation of protective netting behind the goal lines at all NHL rinks. This was the result of a fatal injury to a young fan in Columbus in 2002 who was struck by a deflected puck. While the NHL took swift action by implementing a number of risk-mitigating factors at all rinks, hometown rinks were slow to adopt these measures and have felt the consequences. Several lawsuits against rink owners have found them guilty of negligence for failure to take protective measures – an often financially crippling experience for small business owners.
To establish a negligence claim, the injured party must provide evidence of a duty to the claimant, a breach of that duty, a causal link between the duty and the injury, and damages. In this instance, the rink owners have an obligation to fans to provide a safe venue, free from potential injury or harm.
There are several steps that could and should be taken in order in order to mitigate the chance of a risk occurring and to alleviate any resulting damages. The first step (avoidance) would include the installation of netting as mentioned above. This will keep the puck and other projectiles from entering high-risk areas of the stands, which are mainly behind the goals. The second step (reduction) is making the fans aware of the associated risks. This should include using prominent signage and making announcements prior to the start of the game. This will give the fans the opportunity to use the third risk-mitigating measure – the ability to relocate their seats should they feel that they are in danger. Providing this option can be critical in suit and should be supported by documented procedures. The final risk-mitigating factor (transfer) for rink owners would be to maintain a general liability policy that includes coverage for bodily injuries, in the event an injury does in fact occur. This would be a way to mitigate the damages against the owner.
These measures, which should be used in conjunction can reduce risks relatively inexpensively, protect the rink owners, and won’t detract from the fun fan experience. They are in the best interests of all involved and can be some the first steps taken in reducing risk at all hockey rinks, not just at the professional level.
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