Court: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
Case Name: Jones v. LA Fitness Int’l, LLC
Citation: 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 101747
The plaintiff was playing basketball on an indoor court at a health club owned by the defendant. In the plaintiff’s attempt to block a shot, he leaped over the baseline and fell against an unpadded part of the court’s back wall. In his fall, the plaintiff dislocated his elbow. He sustained permanent damage to the elbow joint, including lateral epicondylitis, joint effusion, and right elbow posterior dislocation. In his lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant was negligent for failing to keep the basketball court safe and for failing to warn people of the danger presented by insufficient padding. The plaintiff hired a sports and recreation expert witness to support his case.
The Sports & Recreation Expert Witness
The sports and recreation expert was a sports and recreation consultant with experience in sports risk management and liability. During deposition, the expert testified that the basketball court in question was unsafe for a number of reasons. The expert opined the court was undersized and it did not have a baseline or end-line drawn over the entire court distance, but just over the 12-foot length at the bottom of the square under the basket. The expert also stated there was little space between the baseline and the wall, there was no mid-court double line, as required in undersized court by some rules, and the wall padding stretched just 16 feet down the back wall below the hoop, rather than all around the wall.
The sports and recreation expert testified that his opinion relied on a variety of official principles and texts, including the basketball rule books of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the National Junior College, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards, the Architectural Graphic Standards (AGS), the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), and the High School Federation Court and Field Diagram Guide. The expert also testified that he was unaware of any rules directly related to health club basketball courts.
The defendant argued that the sports and recreation expert’s deposition testimony was inadmissible because he was not qualified to give a scientific or biomechanical judgment on the cause of the plaintiff’s accident. The defendant also asserted that the expert had not sufficiently proven that any supposed flaw in the basketball court was actually hazardous. Finally, the defendant maintained that the expert’s quoted court specifications were not applicable in this case because they did not regulate the basketball court in question.
The court agreed that the expert’s quoted criteria did not specifically apply to basketball courts within health clubs, but it did not accept that this criteria was meaningless. The court stated that the defendant had not found any alternative norm, rule, or source of knowledge on basketball court architecture to dispute those that the expert relied on. Although the court did not consider the expert’s testimony to be exclusively appropriate in this case, it nevertheless considered that the expert’s experience-based testimony about various industry requirements for basketball courts could assist a jury in deciding whether the defendant’s actions were up to the standard of care. The court also noted that given the possibility that the jury may include jurors who did not have equal personal experience on a basketball court, the expert’s proposed testimony could level the playing field.
However, the court agreed with the defendant that, to the degree that the expert discussed the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries, the expert’s evidence was clearly too vague to be admissible at trial. Furthermore, the court decided that the sport and recreation expert could not testify at trial that the basketball court’s features constituted a “dangerous environment” or whether the court was intrinsically safe. Accordingly, the expert’s testimony was limited to his perspective on industry requirements and regulations for basketball courts. The expert was also permitted to discuss how the configuration and performance of the defendant’s basketball court matched such expectations.
The defendant’s motion to exclude the sports and recreation expert’s testimony was denied in part and granted in part.