By: AshLeigh Sebia*

Karl Towns Sr., the 54-year-old father of Minnesota Timberwolves star center Karl-Anthony Towns Jr., sustained a serious leg injury while attending the team’s home game on January 26th.[i]   Towns Sr. was supporting his son when, during a timeout, the Timberwolves’ mascot, Crunch, lost his balance during a sledding stunt.[ii]  The mascot crashed into an aisle seat, which in turn, hit Towns Sr.’s knee.[iii]  As a result, Towns Sr. is contemplating legal action including a potential negligence claim against his son’s team.[iv]

When a person commits a legally negligent act, he or she may be liable for damages to the injured party.  However, in this instance, the performer playing Crunch may not be the only party responsible.[v]  Due to the legal concept of respondeat superior, Latin for “let the master answer,” an employer may be responsible for the negligence of it’s employee provided that the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment when he or she committed the negligent act.[vi]

Here, in order to have a claim for negligence, Towns Sr. would have to prove that the team owed him, or a class of persons including him, a duty of care.  He will have to assert that the team breached this duty and that the breach is what caused his injury.

Duty may often be defined by the general standards of an industry.  In other words, if a team or facility operator is able to show that they provided fans with a safe experience, this may be sufficient to defeat a negligence claim.[vii]  Whether the team owed a duty to Towns Sr. may also depend on whether this type accident was foreseeable.  Therefore, the results of this case may turn on whether Crunch’s employer approved the sledding stunt and if it knew or should have known of the potential dangers of the stunt.[viii]

This type of stunt is not uncommon for Crunch or for NBA mascots in general.[ix] If the team can prove that Crunch, or mascots like Crunch, have executed this stunt without incident in the past it may be difficult to argue that the injury was foreseeable.[x]  If the injury was not foreseeable, it is unlikely that the team breached its duty to Towns Sr.[xi]

In addition, a counter argument often made by teams or facility operators is that fans assume the risk of injury when they decide to attend the game.[xii]  Specifically, the team may argue that Towns Sr. has been to a number of home games and thus has likely observed this stunt in the past.[xiii]  Therefore, the team would argue that Towns Sr. could have done more to protect himself from sustaining an injury of this type.[xiv]

This argument can be an effective defense to a negligence claim, however it often depends on the type of injury suffered.[xv]  Contrasted with baseball for example, NBA fans are generally not concerned with the basketball flying into the crowd.[xvi]  As a result, a basketball spectator may not be as attentive throughout the game.[xvii]  On the other hand, in this case, Towns Sr. was not injured as a result of the game itself.  He may argue that he did not assume the risk of being injured by the team’s mascot or any performance outside the realm of the game itself.

Regardless of arguments on both sides, this seems like a lose-lose for the Timberwolves organization.  While no lawsuit has been filed yet, the organization would likely be hesitant to litigate against the father of their franchise player.[xviii]  Therefore in the event of a lawsuit in the future, it may opt to settle the matter through mediation out of court.[xix]


*Staff Writer, Villanova University Sports Law Society Blog; J.D. Candidate, May 2019, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law.

[i] Michael McCann, Karl Towns Sr. Considering Lawsuit Against Timberwolves And Their Mascot, Sports Illustrated (Mar. 3, 2017), http://www.si.com/nba/2017/03/03/karl-towns-sr-lawsuit-minnesota-timberwolves-mascot-crunch.

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Id.

[v] Id.

[vi]  Respondeat Superior, Black’s Law Dictionary (8th ed. 2004).

[vii] See McCann, supra note 1.

[viii] Id.

[ix] Kristian Windfield, Karl-Anthony Towns’ dad got injured by the Timberwolves’ mascot. Now, he might sue., SB Nation (Mar. 3, 2017), http://www.sbnation.com/2017/3/3/14801654/karl-anthony-towns-dad-injured-timberwolves-mascot.

[x] See McCann, supra note 1.

[xi] Id.

[xii] Id.

[xiii] Id.

[xiv] Id.

[xv] Id.

[xvi] Id.

[xvii] Id.

[xviii] Id.

[xix] Id.

 

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