Employees have a right to reasonably safe working conditions. But what exactly amounts to unsafe conditions? For professional football players, one answer may center on the playing field itself.
A former star linebacker for the Houston Texans recently filed a lawsuit claiming that unsafe turf contributed to an injury that ended his career in 2014. DeMeco Ryans was playing for the Eagles against his former team at NRG Stadium in Houston when he tore his Achilles tendon. His lawsuit seeks to hold the stadium, the Texans team and the turf manufacturer accountable for roughly $10 million in lost income.
One of the league’s most notorious fields
Until last summer, the turf was grown and installed in a patchwork of trays. Some squares of turf were firmer than others. The field as a whole was plagued with inconsistent surfaces, gaps, holes and other hazards. Patriots coach Bill Belichick described it as one of the worst fields he’d even seen. This summer, the stadium finally replaced it with artificial turf.
Ryans wasn’t the first
Several other players suffered injuries on the dangerous turf over the years. Another Texans player, punter Brett Hartmann, sued the stadium after a knee injury on the field left him permanently sidelined. Hartmann’s attorney said the field was notorious among players and opposing teams for its hazardous surface.
Who to sue – the team, the stadium, the manufacturer or all of the above?
Because he played for the Texans at the time, Hartmann couldn’t sue the team itself. Workers’ compensation laws in Texas – as in other states – limit the right of employees to sue their employers directly for negligence.
Ryans, however, played for the Eagles at the time of his injury. As a result, he was free to bring a suit against his former employer in addition to the stadium and the turf manufacturer – all of whom could have arguably been responsible.
Dangerous conditions can happen in any work environment
Injuries have devastating effects on the careers of everyday people as well as sports stars. Whether on the factory line or football field, all employees should have the tools and precautions necessary to perform the job safely.