To Jim Mercurio, vice president, stadium and event operations, Levi’s Stadium:
Dear Mr. Mercurio, I recently attended the 49ers’ first game at the beautiful new Levi’s Stadium. I truly was amazed by the sleek architectural design. It was like being in a four-star hotel with a football game going on outside.
I wanted to bring to your attention several things I observed and noted that I think could pose a major health and safety hazard to your guests. You may recall that, sadly, there have been a number of serious injuries and deaths that have occurred when fans have fallen over railings onto fans and the concrete below at Rangers Ballpark, Turner Field, the Georgia Dome and other sporting arenas. The fall at Rangers Ballpark occurred as a fan, in front of his son, reached over the balcony to try and catch a foul ball. Following that tragic event, the stadium owners raised the balcony railings from 30.5 inches to 46 inches to prevent further falls.
As an attorney who is too often called upon to represent people who have been injured, or the families who have lost a loved one, I hope that this letter and careful consideration of its contents may prevent a unnecessary tragedy occurring at Levi’s Stadium. Although we are much-maligned as personal-injury lawyers, most, like myself, would much rather prevent injury rather than prove liability.
As I stood up from my seat in the front row to walk to the stairs, I was surprised to note the height and construction of the sleek, steel-capped glass panels that serve as railings. First, the height of the panel is only slightly more than 30 inches. The width of the railing is approximately a half-inch. The cap is squared at 90-degree angles with no gripping surface: it is similar to trying to carry a closed MacBook between your thumb and forefinger on its side. Although the design is pleasant to the eye, it presents a danger to the public.
First, the height of the railing is one that is below the average adult’s center of mass (below the waist) and, as such, it presents a serious falling hazard to even cautious spectators. The height is, unfortunately, quite close to that which existed at Rangers Ballpark. This risk is compounded by the very narrow isle between the front-row seat and the panel, which is made even narrower by the approximately 4-by-4-inch sloped curb that runs along the base of the panel along the walking surface.
The 2013 California Building Code sets forth safety criteria for balconies and open areas. CBC Section 1013.2 and 1013.3 require that guards be installed along open walking surfaces no less than 42 inches in height. This is true when glass surfaces are used as guards (CBC 1013.2.1). The Santa Clara County Building Code embraces the 42-inch standard on open walk ways. These height limits are in place to prevent a person’s center of mass being above the edge of the guard as it is well recognized that lower rails can lead to serious, fatal falls. This is exactly what happened at Rangers Ballpark.
CBC Section 1012.3 provides standards for graspability requiring that the handrails have a grasping surface where the opposable thumb can effect a meaningful grip (round or mushroom-shaped). The rectangular nature of the panel fails to provide the proper grasping surface.
Given the narrow walking area, the 4-inch curb, the low guard height and the lack of a proper handrail the perfect storm for a disaster exists at Levi’s Stadium. Something as simple as a fan turning their back toward the field for a photo, leaning back and losing their balance, or a patron, while trying to exit the row, tripping on a seatmate’s feet, falling forward and outward over the glass rail, can lead to catastrophic injury and/or death to themselves and the patrons below. I fear that this is not a remote possibility but, instead, a very foreseeable probability. When you add the excitement of a football game and alcohol consumption, you are edging closer to certainty. Please take action to change the conditions or warn patrons of the danger so that no one gets injured and the beautiful new park will not be marred by tragedy and ensuing litigation.
Christopher B. Dolan
Christopher B. Dolan is owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.