On October 14, 2015 the Morelly Ratner Law Firm, PLLC, filed a Complaint on behalf of Eugenie Bouchard naming the USTA and the USTA National Tennis Center as Defendants. The case is now pending in The United States District Court, Eastern District of New York and and was assigned Case # 1:15-cv-05920 by the Clerk.
For those who are not accustomed to litigation, I will try to break down what is happening in plain language.
According to the Complaint, Genie fell in what you could call a classic slip and fall case. The fall was caused when she slipped after stepping on a slippery floor when she had no warning that the floor was slippery. This type of situation gives rise to a claim in Tort for Negligence. Simply put, this theory says that when you suffer an injury that was caused by another person’s carelessness, that person can be held liable for the resulting damages if there is 1) a duty of care owed to you by that person, 2) there was a breach of that duty, 3) an injury occurred, and 4) the injury was caused by the breach of duty.
In order to prevail, a Plaintiff (Bouchard) must prove the above elements.
I am very familiar with brain injuries as my younger brother was in an accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury and I can tell you, it is life changing for everyone in the family. A concussion, while not as serious, can lead to serious conditions later in life depending on the severity of the injury and the individual’s reaction to the trauma. There is a lot of great work being done related to the impact of concussions on long term health, specifically by organizations related to NFL, the NHL, and other professional sports where contact is frequent and violent.
The simple answer to the question “Why sue?” is because it is the right thing to do. I have been surprised to see commentary from people that has been negative towards Ms. Bouchard and her team. Insurance is there to provide financial protection when accidents happen. In the event that Ms. Bouchard can meet the required elements and the facts are as described in the Complaint, the public policy behind holding the USTA responsible in this case is sound as they were in the best position to warn Ms. Bouchard of the dangerous condition they created. It is unclear now what the long term impact of her injury will be, and she must recover as much as she can. It is that simple.
I do not have the benefit of being in on the discussions with her team, but it seems a little premature at first blush to file now considering that the extent of her injuries may not be known until some time passes. This issue may impact the analysis of her damages significantly but I like to think her attorney’s have a good reason for the timing. Perhaps they knew that filing now during a very busy cycle in the sporting year would garner less attention and public scrutiny than filing during a time when there is less happening in the world of sports. Who knows.
The second question that has me curious is how does the USTA benefit from not settling this claim out of court? Perhaps it is a slow part of the year for American tennis, and maybe a law suit to get some interest in the game after the US Open has come and gone isn’t the worst thing in the world? Is any publicity good publicity? I like to think that perhaps the Bouchard team submitted a proposal for settlement, the USTA rejected it, and here we are. However, I have no idea if any such discussions occurred or not.
I now practice in the related area of property damage litigation. It seems to me that there is a strong cultural bias against filing insurance claims even when one’s insured real property is damaged. I have seen countless people pay for repairs out of pocket rather than file a claim with their insurance carrier. This is not typically based on any logical reasoning, but perhaps some clever social conditioning on behalf of the insurance industry. Likewise, there is a strong cultural bias, among some groups, against filing claims for personal injuries. This should not be. We have a system of laws that provides for recovery when a party is injured, and our legal systems provides a mechanism for the injured party to use the full force of the government to compel the negligent party to “do the right thing” if necessary.
You’ve probably heard it before… don’t hate the player, hate the game. If you don’t like our Tort system, lobby for a better system if you can find one. There is a reason that most skyscrapers in most major cities have the names of banks and insurance companies on them, these institutions make mad loot selling you the illusion of safety and security for your health and property. When an accident occurs, it is the job of the insurance carrier to pay for the damages.
Get well soon Genie! #GenieArmy