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Can a Snowball Fight Land You in Court?

By Tanya Roth, Esq. | Last updated on

A legal fight over a snowball fight has broken out in Washington State. Last week, a fan injured in the alleged Shaun Ellis snowball attack after a Jets/Seahawks game sued Ellis for personal injury, mental distress, humiliation pain and suffering. The suit did not specify damages.

The snowy fracas took place after the Jets game on Seahawks home turf in December of 2008, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. As the Jets leave the field, they are pelted by snowballs from the stands. In the video shot of the incident (see below), one fan in a black jacket and hat waves a sign at the departing players. As they walk off under flying snow, an unhappy Ellis picks up some snow and hurls it at the fan with the sign, apparently hitting him in the head or upper torso. In the video, the fan comes back in what seems to be seconds later, grasping the chunk of snow and waving happily at other fans, hopping up and down slightly with excitement and pointing to the snow chunk clutched in his arm.

Video can be deceiving and thanks to camera angles, what we think we see isn't always what we really see. However, based on the video, the fan that caught Ellis's "snowball" did not seem to be injured, embarrassed, or in the slightest bit humiliated. On the contrary, he is clearly gesturing to the snow as if to show the rest of the stadium what happened. Now, we don't know whether this fan went home that night to discover major injuries that he did not notice in the excitement of the moment. Granted, we don't even know if the main fan visible in the video is Robert Larson, the man who was allegedly hurt and who is suing. But if it is, the video would not be very convincing to a jury looking for evidence of injury and distress.

On the other side of the suit, to call what Ellis heaved at the fan a "snowball" is like calling the sun a light source. The chunk of snow (and probably ice) took an NFL defensive player both hands and a visible effort to throw -- at close range. There seems very little chance that a hit from such a bolder of snow would not result in some form of injury.

Ellis was fined $10,000 by the NFL for the incident, reports the Post-Intelligencer.

Finally, questions may be asked as to why the fan took a full two years to sue. Some may look at this with suspicion. But so long as he sued within the legal time limit (the statue of limitations), the suit is valid. In the state of Washington, the statue of limitations on a personal injury suit is three years.

This is not even close to the first injury due to an altercation between a fan and a player, or even between a fan and mascot. But, if the now famous Sean Ellis snowball attack results in a large payout by Ellis or the Jets, it could be one of the last.

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