A constant theme in our lives is what we notice, what seems different or unusual. About people, situations, the décor of a room.
But in the legal world, so many of our personal injury and negligence cases hinge upon notice—that is, what did the defendant know and when did they know it? Myriad examples abound. Was the manager of the restaurant aware that the floor was super slippery by the door when the customer wiped out? Did the city know its sidewalk had a two-inch defect when the plaintiff tripped?
Recently, a great example of notice has arisen involving the Chicago Blackhawks Hockey team.
First of all, full disclosure: I am an ardent Chicago Blackhawks fan. I love watching hockey. I cheered for every second of every game, especially during the three Stanley Cup wins in six years from 2010-2015.
Recently, several lawsuits have been filed against the team and its management claiming that several former players were sexually abused or harassed by a video coach formerly employed by the Blackhawks during the 2009-2010 Stanley Cup winning season.
Without getting too graphic, the general gist of the complaints is that this video coach, Bradley Aldrich, masturbated in front of these players and threatened the players to keep them from reporting this. A few years later, he was convicted of sexually assaulting a high school hockey player in 2013 and is now a registered sex offender.
The Chicago Blackhawks, it has been reported, actually held a meeting of senior management where the allegations by the team’s players against Aldrich were discussed. It is also reported by the Chicago Tribune that the management group decided to NOT report these allegations to law enforcement.
Since then, several former players on that team, as well as a former assistant coach, have corroborated both the awareness of the allegations and management’s knowledge of them.
In the above examples of lawsuits as well as this situation, notice is everything.
In short, just because something bad happens does not mean there is someone or some organization who can be blamed for it occurring.
Unless you can prove they knew, or reasonably should have been, aware of the problem and failed to take reasonable steps to prevent harm arising from it.
Say you are aware there is an extremely slippery spot by the door of your restaurant. Numerous employees and customers advise you orally and in writing they “nearly wiped out,” or “I fell and hurt myself on the slippery floor.”
And you do nothing about it. Then someone gets really hurt. And they prove that you knew about the problem and did nothing to remediate the slipperiness or warn people of it.
That is not going to look good to a jury, is it? Likely, that jury will come down hard on you and make you pay handsomely for the injuries claimed.
Now, let’s get back to the Blackhawks. If the plaintiffs can prove that senior management was aware of these abuse allegations, met about them, chose not to report them to police, and did not suspend or fire the video coach alleged to have committed the abuse, what will a judge or jury think? I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say a judge or jury will come down hard on the team for knowing and doing nothing. It’s reasonable to think that if they had taken some action, Aldrich would not have had the opportunity to harm the high school hockey player.
That is why notice is so key to so many types of lawsuits.
Once you are made aware of a potentially dangerous situation, you have a duty to do something about it.
If you are a restaurant owner and you know about the slippery entranceway, you need to take reasonable steps to fix the problem and/or warn people of it.
If you are a municipality with a height differential in your sidewalk, you need to fix it—or be prepared to pay to compensate injured parties.
Once a person or organization knows, or should reasonably be expected to know, about a dangerous condition (whether or not it created that hazard), something has to be done. It cannot be swept under the rug, ignored, buried, sat on, or left alone.
In the coming months and years, we will learn more about who in the Blackhawks organization knew what, when they knew it, and what they did about it. Based upon the reports and potential witness statements so far, it does not look like the organization handled things well at all. Not morally, not legally, and not financially.
As in all cases involving injury and potential liability, if you have been hit by a vehicle, immediately get medical treatment, report the crash to police and your own insurance company, and contact a lawyer with expertise in your type of case, such as bicycle accidents or pedestrians hit by cars.
If you've been in an accident and have questions, contact Chicago personal injury attorney Stephen L. Hoffman for a free consultation at (773) 944-9737. Stephen has over 30 years of legal experience and has collected millions of dollars for his clients. He is listed as a SuperLawyer, has a 10.0 rating on Avvo, and is BBB A+ accredited. He is also an Executive Level Member of the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce.
Stephen handles personal injury claims on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay anything up front and he only gets paid if you do. Don’t wait another day; contact Stephen now.