TRENTON, N.J. - A divided New Jersey Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a woman who was hit in the face by a hockey puck does not have a case against the owner of the arena.
In a 4-3 vote, the Court decided Denise Sciarrotta's five-year-old negligence claim did not pass the application of the limited duty rule, even if the incident occurred during a pre-game warm-up.
Sciarrotta was at the Jan. 4, 2003, Trenton Titans game to watch her 12-year-old daughter sing the national anthem.
"We conclude that the limited duty rule applies to all activities on the field of play, including pre-game warm-ups," Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto wrote. "We further conclude that the limited duty rule itself does not encompass a separate duty to warn of the peril of objects leaving the field of play.
"Thus, if a sports venue owner of operator complies with the limited duty rule, it has satisfied its duty of care to patrons in the stands and, in those circumstances, no action in negligence will lie for the peril of objects leaving the field of play."
Sciarotta was seated six or seven rows from the ice and above the Plexiglas barrier that surrounds the rink when a puck bounced off a goalpost and struck Sciarotta. She sued Global Spectrum, Comcast Spectator Co., Trenton Hockey Club, the Trenton Titans (now called the Devils), the Johnstown Chiefs and the East Coast Hockey League.
According to a 2007 report by The Associated Press, Sciarotta still suffers from brain damage, has a 2 1/2-inch scar and has trouble maintaining a regular routine at work.
The trial court sided with the defendants, finding that they had complied with the limited duty rule because they offered protective seating to any spectator who requested it.
Former state Attorney General and current Chief Justice Stuart Rabner joined in the majority, as did justices Helen Hoen and Jaynee LaVecchia.
Justice Virginia Long authored a dissent in which justices Barry Albin and John Wallace joined. She feels the defendants should have warned Sciarotta of the danger of seeing a hockey game and informed her of the protective seating.
She says there is an "obligation to warn hockey patrons of the potential dangers from pucks and of the patrons' ability to insulate themselves by requesting protected seating."
"Indeed," she continued, "it makes no sense to devolve on the arena owner a duty to provide protected seating while keeping patrons in the dark over their right to request it."