NFL Pulled into America’s Latest Mass Shooting

Another week, another mass shooting in America. The venue this time was a mall in Jacksonville, Florida which was playing host to the Madden NFL 19 Club Championship, a season long video game tournament, presented by EA Sports as part of its partnership with the NFL. The shooting left 3 people dead, including the alleged shooter, and 11 others injured, 9 from gunshot wounds.

As reported by Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, the shooter was identified as David Katz, 24, of Baltimore but no motive was officially announced. Katz was a well-known gamer at these e-sport tournaments. In 2017, Katz won a Madden tournament in Buffalo hosted by the Bills. It is alleged by some witnesses he was targeting a fellow competitor who had eliminated Katz in an earlier round.

This EA Sports run competitive series has been heavily marketed by EA Sports, the NFL, and ESPN and will likely attract thousands of gamers vying for their piece of the $1,255,000 prize pool. This portion of the tournament took place at the GLHF Game Bar at Jacksonville Landing, a popular destination spot housing many shops and restaurants along Jacksonville’s waterfront. The shooting was captured on a live video stream as the tournament was broadcast to viewers worldwide on the Twitch platform.

While the NFL is still licking its wounds from its failure to properly address the national anthem protests, the last thing the league wants is to be drawn into another hotly-debated social issue, like gun violence. That, however, may be unavoidable as EA Sports, the creator of the Madden video game series, is one the league’s most recognizable partners. EA could not possibly host such a tournament featuring the Madden game series without the NFL’s consent and the NFL, and its member clubs, are synonymous with Madden video games.

Shortly after news of the shooting broke, the NFL released a statement saying, “[w]e are shocked and deeply saddened by the horrific tragedy today in Jacksonville. Our hearts go out to all those affected.”

When a mass shooting takes place at a venue hosting a special event, who is responsible for providing the security? There are many players in this tragedy that could find themselves on the end of a lawsuit. Is EA Sports liable? This was their event that they hosted and participants had to register through its website. Is GLHF Game Bar liable? This is their venue, was it their responsibility to provide adequate security or was it EA’s? Does the NFL shoulder any of the liability? How involved were they in the execution of the tournament or did they merely consent to their intellectual property being used?

The legal fallout of this shooting remains to be seen. Per the terms and conditions of registering for this event, competitors agreed to “release and hold harmless EA and its agents from any and all liability” for any “claims resulting from death or personal injury arising from EA’s negligence”. The users further consent to “irrevocably waive[] all claims against the National Football League [and all its entities] and agrees that the NFL Entities will have no liability or responsibility for any claims … [or] injuries”.

User agreements are generally upheld so it is possible this could shield EA Sports and the NFL, unless victims are able to establish conduct by either that extends beyond mere negligence. The agreement is governed by the laws of California, as users consented to that as well, however Florida law may play a role in determining the validity of this agreement pursuant to local law.

Venues or companies that host large events, like tournaments, tradeshows, and concerts, have a duty of reasonable care to ensure the security and safety of their guests. Depending on what a potential suit against either EA Sports or GLHF may specifically allege, claims may include allegations of negligence or recklessness in failing to properly screen and admit guests, observe and address potential risks, train employees in the event of an emergency or to maintain adequate points of egress resulting in substantial injury and death.

Katz was well known in the gamer community, having previously participated in and won similar Madden high-risk tournaments. Had he a documented history of violence towards fellow participants in past tournaments, the risk of EA Sports being liable increases. Viewing the EA Sports website where a competitor signs up for one of these tournaments, it appears all that is required to participate is to have an EA account and to be 13 years of age. In order to limit their exposure to liability, EA Sports may consider conducting background checks on their participants for future events.

Venues and hosts at large events that experience mass shootings have faced similar suits with similar claims. For example, MGM Resorts is facing lawsuits stemming from the 2017 shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival that resulted in 58 dead and 851 injured. Those claims allege, among other things, MGM was negligent in securing its facilities, training its employees in the event of an emergency and protecting its visitors. Any subsequent lawsuit in Jacksonville would mirror similar allegations.

The investigation into this tragic event is still in its infancy and not much else is known at this point. What is known is this tournament series lasts into April 2019, with competitions being held all across the country. Future EA Sports events will undoubtedly see an increase in security to prevent additional violence.

 

Photo credit: Joey Roulette / Reuters

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