Lynda Soundara v. Atlanta Falcons Stadium Company, LLC et al.

Court of Appeals Upholds Summary Judgment for Claims of Negligence and Vicarious Liability Because Plaintiff Assumed Risk of Injury by Engaging in Brawl but Reverses Summary Judgment for Individual Defendants Involved in Brawl Because Assumption of Risk Is Not a Defense to Assault and Battery Claims

Includes:

  • Soundara v. AMB Sports & Entertainment, et al. 
  • Soundara v. Kraver, et al. 
  • Soundara v. SAFE Management of Georgia

Facts

Lynda Soundara was injured at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta when, during a football game between Florida State and the University of Alabama, she joined a brawl that broke out among the crowd. 

Video footage showed that she got involved in the fight, which took place in the tunnel between the restrooms and the stadium seats, by taking off her sandal and striking the already-brawling individuals with it. Soundara sued the stadium, the stadium’s security company, and two other individuals involved in the brawl, Charles Kraver Jr. and his son, Charles Kraver III. She claimed she didn’t remember exactly how she ended up in the brawl, but that her fiancé was getting attacked and she simply “reacted.”

Issues and Holdings

The issues in this case were:

  1. Was the trial court’s grant of summary judgment for stadium and stadium security defendants proper when Plaintiff made a claim for negligence and vicarious liability against them after she was injured when she inserted herself into a brawl at the stadium?
  2. Was the trial court’s grant of summary judgment proper on claims of assault and battery for individual defendants involved in the brawl that injured Plaintiff? 

The court determined:

  1. The Court of Appeals held that summary judgment was properly granted to the stadium and the security company. 
  2. The grant of summary judgment to the individual defendants was erroneous.

Reasoning

The court first considered the claims against the stadium and its security service. The Plaintiff contended that, since fights often erupt at football games, the stadium and its security service had superior knowledge of the risk of violence and were the proximate cause of her injuries because they did not prevent the brawl that caused her injuries. The stadium and security company argued that the Plaintiff’s claims were barred based on assumption of the risk.

The court looked to the summary judgment standard from Sapp v. Effingham County Bd. Of Ed., 200 Ga. App. 695 (1991). It then analyzed the elements required to show assumption of risk: (1) a hazard or danger inconsistent with the safety of an invitee; (2) the invitee’s knowledge and appreciation of the danger; and (3) willingness on the part of the invitee to proceed in spite of danger. Fagan v. Atnalta, 189 Ga. App. 460, 460-461 (1988). The court explained that the plaintiff had a “clear choice of alternative actions.” Id. at 461. She instead approached the fight and “deliberately entered into a volatile confrontation.” See Richey v. The Kroger Co., 355 Ga. App. 551, 554 (2020). She had the option to move away from the fight, but she approached it instead. 

The court determined that she did not exercise ordinary care in her actions, and the danger in joining the brawl was “sufficiently obvious.” Fagan, 189 Ga. App. at 461. The court distinguished the case from Richey, stating that the plaintiff in Richey did not know that an intruder he saw inside his truck was armed, nor did he inject himself into an ongoing violent situation. Richey, 355 Ga. at 553-554. 

The court then addressed the claims against the individual defendants who were involved in the brawl. Defendant Kraver III sought summary judgment as a matter of law on assault and battery claims because there was not evidence that he actually touched the plaintiff. Defendant Kraver Jr. sought summary judgment based on his assertion that the plaintiff assumed the risk of harm by entering the fight. 

As to Kraver Jr., the court explained that assault and battery are intentional torts. Hold v. Rickman, 368 Ga. App. 55, 57 (2023).  Georgia case law holds that assumption of risk is not a defense to an intentional tort. Harvey Freeman & Sons v. Stanley, 259 Ga. 233, 234 (1989). Therefore, the court determined that summary judgment was inappropriate. 

The court applied a similar, condensed analysis to Kraver III, as the claims against him were also assault and battery. The trial court’s summary judgment of the claims against him was also reversed. 

Conclusion

This case makes an important distinction on when assumption of the risk applies as a defense. While it is available as a defense to a negligence claim, it is not a defense to intentional torts. 

This case demonstrates that it can be difficult for a plaintiff to recover on a negligence claim when the plaintiff has inserted themselves into a dangerous situation. This is so even when the plaintiff feels compelled to respond because somebody, like a family member, is being attacked. The court’s analysis does not seem to take that fact into account at all and holds that, as a matter of law, a plaintiff assumes the risk of injury, regardless of the justification for their actions. 

Citation: Lynda Soundara v. Atlanta Falcons Stadium Company, LLC et al., 
No. A23A1449 (Ga. Ct. App. March 6, 2024)

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