Commanders seek to move lawsuit filed by injured Eagles fans to arbitration

How often do you read the fine print on anything, much less those football tickets you bought online? A federal lawsuit filed last fall against the Washington Commanders could hinge on it.

In recent weeks, the Commanders have moved to get a lawsuit filed by four Philadelphia Eagles fans, who say they were hurt when a FedEx Field railing collapsed last year, compelled to an arbitrator instead.

The incident happened after the game between the then-Washington Football Team and the Philadelphia Eagles, held Jan. 2, 2022. A viral video showed a group of fans reaching over a railing to high-five players, including Eagles Quarterback Jalen Hurts, when the railing collapsed.

A lawyer for the four plaintiffs said they were directed there by stadium personnel to engage with Eagles players after the win.

In November, the team filed a response to the lawsuit arguing that when the tickets were bought online, the terms and conditions of the purchase included an agreement that any claims or disputes that arise at the event must be “resolved by mandatory, confidential, final and binding arbitration in Loudoun County.”

It goes on to say that by using that ticket and walking into the stadium, the ticket holder waives their right to a court or jury trial.

Robert Sokolove, who represents the plaintiffs, doesn’t see it that way. In fact, he doesn’t see anything about those terms and conditions on the tickets the plaintiffs used to get in that day.

Sokolove told WTOP that the tickets were given to his clients by someone else, and that the paper they used to get into the stadium didn’t include terms and conditions specified by the team.

Sokolove said he thinks the team just expects it can get a more favorable outcome if the case goes before an arbitrator based in Northern Virginia, instead of a jury overseeing a civil case in a federal court.

He also noted that the NFL has a habit of trying to move lawsuits into confidential arbitration instead of making arguments in an open court.

At a status hearing Wednesday, a judge gave the plaintiffs until Jan. 20 to amend their original lawsuit and argue why a federal courtroom is the proper venue. If that happens, it would lead to more court filings, and it’s likely that even a fast-tracked decision wouldn’t come before the spring. If it doesn’t, a ruling on that could come sooner.

Sokolove said he’s still trying to determine if certain facts need to be clarified to avoid arbitration.

“It’s rather apparent the team wants to avoid this being in the public,” he said in a phone interview.

A lawyer representing the Commanders did not respond for comment.

In the civil lawsuit filed last September in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Maryland, Michael Naimoli, Andrew Collins, Morgan French and Marissa Santarlasci are each seeking “in excess of $75,000” as they continue to seek treatment for injuries suffered in the fall.

The suit claims they sustained cuts, bruises, cervical strains, muscle sprains and “other potential long-term effects, both physical and emotional.”

If the judge decides the case should remain in federal court and not be sent to an arbitrator, it would be up to a jury to decide how much each of them is entitled to.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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