PHILADELPHIA — ESPN and the National Football League are facing a lawsuit that alleges safety violations during the construction of a temporary stage built for the first NFL draft ever held entirely outdoors.
A New Jersey man who allegedly suffered head trauma, broken ribs and a ruptured spleen after a 30-foot fall while working on the temporary amphitheater for the 2017 NFL Draft in Philadelphia has filed a lawsuit against the NFL, ESPN and the event production company they hired.
In the lawsuit filed in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas in January, Brian Crowthers, who was employed by Tri-State Staging as a stagehand, claims the fall he suffered while building the temporary amphitheater in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art was caused by Mountain Productions Services' "improper fall protection and prevention" measures.
The amphitheater was built in front of the famed "Rocky" steps at the museum.
The lawsuit alleges negligence on the parts of the NFL and ESPN, saying they failed to hire a competent outfit to build the stage.
"Prior to the date of the accident, Defendant, ESPN, knew or should have known of the hazardous and unsafe work practices that existed," the lawsuit says. "Defendant, ESPN, breached the duties that it owed to Plaintiff."
Lawyers for the NFL transferred the case to federal court recently, but Crowthers has asked that it be sent back to Philadelphia state court.
Should the case be moved back to Philadelphia state court, ESPN and the NFL will be litigating in a jurisdiction known for high-dollar verdicts. Crowthers is seeking punitive damages, and a jury might comply, considering one just awarded $25 million in punitives in a $41 million pelvic mesh verdict.
The court has long been labeled a "Judicial Hellhole" by a national legal reform group that publishes an annual report of jurisdictions it says are unfair to corporate defendants. On the day the 2018 report came out, a Philadelphia jury reached a $28 million verdict in a lawsuit over the blood-thinner Xarelto.
A judge later struck down the verdict.
Crowthers, a member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Union, Local No. 8, alleges that fall safety precautions for the project were not implemented or largely ignored in an effort to make sure that construction of the amphitheater was complete in time for ESPN's live broadcasts of the NFL Draft.
According to the lawsuit, Crowthers fell about 30 feet onto the stage below and suffered major injuries including loss of consciousness, closed head trauma, memory and concentration problems, several fractures, a ruptured spleen and lung hemorrhage.
Following the April 22, 2017, accident, the lawsuit states the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Mountain Productions Services for several violations of scaffold safety and fall protection. Mountain Productions has been cited on previous occasions by OSHA for fall protection and injury recording and reporting violations, the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, Crowthers is seeking sums in excess of $50,000 from each defendant as well as punitive damages due to alleged negligence that led to his injuries, some of which are permanent, the lawsuit states.
The NFL removed the case to federal court, citing diversity jurisdiction.
On Feb. 15, Crowthers asked that the case be sent back to Philadelphia state court. His lawyer is Kevin Durkan of Fritz & Bianculli in Philadelphia.
"Defendant, the NFL’s, Notice of Removal did not indicate that Defendant, ESPN, consented which makes the removal procedurally defective pursuant to the 'Rule of Unanimity,'" the motion to remand says.
"Moreover, the 'Forum Defendant Rule' makes removal improper because Defendants, Mountain Productions, Inc. and Mountain Production Services, Inc., are citizens of Pennsylvania, the state where the action was brought. "