A Chicago Cubs injury lawsuit filed by a photographer who was hurt at Wrigley Field may advance following an appeals court ruling.
Cubs Injury Lawsuit Claims Negligence
In July 2018, Charles Arbogast, a photographer with the Associated Press, was working in the designated photo well at Wrigley Field. He tripped and fell on a stack of pallets on which photographers would stand when taking pictures.
Personal injury attorneys representing Arbogast filed suit against the Chicago Cubs Baseball Club, the Chicago National League Ball Club, Inc., and Chicago Cubs, Inc. in the Circuit Court of Cook County. The Cubs injury lawsuit alleged that the stack of pallets created hazardous conditions for the people present. The lawsuit further claimed that the named defendants were negligent in allowing these conditions to exist and in not taking steps either to remedy them or to warn the photographers of the danger.
Motion to Dismiss Claims “Contract” Was Formed
The Cubs filed a motion to dismiss Arbogast v. Chicago Cubs Baseball Club, LLC, asserting that the media credential issued to Arbogast included a link to the MLB Pressbox website. The website listed the organization’s full terms and conditions, including a statement that “any and all claims” would be handled through “binding individual arbitration” in New York. A media coordinator for the Cubs affirmed this assertion in an affidavit.
The motion also stated that, for Arbogast to receive a media credential, a representative from the Associated Press needed to complete an online application on Arbogast’s behalf, which an employee for the organization had done in March 2018. In so doing, the organization agreed to the mandatory terms and conditions of the credentials.
Additionally, the motion to dismiss the Cubs injury lawsuit claimed that Arbogast formed a “contract” with the defendants when he used his media credential to access Wrigley Field and photograph games because the credentials clearly stated that the bearer would be bound to additional terms and conditions found online.
Photographer “Not Bound” to Arbitration Clause
Arbogast’s attorneys challenged the assertions in the motion to dismiss, arguing that the defense had not produced any evidence of a contract between Arbogast and the Cubs. Arbogast also stated that he never gave anyone at the Associated Press permission to agree to an arbitration provision for him and that, as a non-signatory to the contract, he was not bound to an arbitration clause to which he did not agree.
The plaintiff’s attorneys further argued that Arbogast’s press credential did not mention arbitration, while the website address listed for additional terms and conditions was “set forth in regular type unhighlighted in any way.” If a user managed to visit the website, he or she would still have to navigate a series of links to locate the terms and conditions, which were 25 paragraphs long – with the arbitration clause located in the 22nd paragraph.
Additionally, Arbogast’s attorneys requested that the affidavit from the Cubs media coordinator be stricken because it relied on unattached documents, including the media credentials application submitted by the Associated Press.
Court Denies Motion
The trial court assigned to the Cubs injury lawsuit denied the defense’s motion to dismiss, a decision later affirmed by the 1st District Appellate Court.
In a written opinion issued on Sept. 28, 2021, Justice James Fitzgerald Smith wrote that there is a “genuine issue of material fact” regarding a contract existing between the two parties. Two other appeals court justices concurred in the judgment.
Justice Smith rejected the Cubs’ argument that Arbogast’s application for a media credential constituted an accepted offer because “the record fails to demonstrate the existence of any agreement.”
“Neither the application itself nor any other communications involving that application are included in the record,” he explained. “As such, we have no evidence upon which to credit the Cubs’ assertion that the submission of this application…had the effect of binding the plaintiff to the terms of any contract.”
Justice Smith also wrote that, while the Associated Press had to click an acknowledgment stating that it agreed to the terms and conditions, this does not establish agreement on Arbogast’s behalf.
Additionally, Smith took issue with the defense’s argument that the press credential — which referenced the terms and conditions — constitute an accepted offer, since the record contains no evidence about “any communications made to the plaintiff about this credential, other than what is communicated on the physical credential itself.”
As such, the contractual nature of the credential “is not obvious,” its primary purpose is not related to contracting, and it is not something “that a person would normally consider contractual in nature.”
“The trial court’s denial of the motion to dismiss without prejudice was clearly proper, as the existence of genuine issues of material fact precluded dismissal in this circumstance,” Justice Smith concluded.
How Binding Arbitration Disadvantages Plaintiffs
Binding arbitration language is a widespread practice across many industries today. Such clauses are frequently buried in the fine print of contracts for press credentials, employment, credit cards, cellphones, nursing homes, retirement accounts, and other commonplace agreements.
When they sign these types of contracts or even when they buy certain products, consumers may be waiving their right to take the companies to court, even for very serious damages, requiring disputes to be presented to and decided by arbitrators instead. Arbitrators are private individuals hired by the companies themselves whose decisions are not bound by state or federal law and are usually final, with no opportunity for appeal.
Critics argue that the practice unfairly disadvantages plaintiffs, who typically do not have the resources of large companies to mount successful arbitration cases. Arbitrators may also have a greater incentive to favor the companies who hire them because they depend upon those companies for repeat business.
Increasing the Odds for Injured Victims
While overcoming a binding arbitration clause can be difficult, it is not necessarily impossible, as can be seen in the decision in the recent Cubs injury lawsuit. To increase the odds in their favor, thousands of injured victims over the years have sought out the assistance of the detail-oriented personal injury attorneys at GWC Injury Lawyers LLC.
With more than $2 billion recovered in verdicts and settlements, GWC is one of the premier Personal Injury and Workers’ Compensation law firms in Illinois. No other plaintiff firm in the state is more respected – or more feared – by defense attorneys, insurance companies, and large corporations, both inside and outside of the courtroom. Our personal injury attorneys have the experience, the determination, the resources, and the reputation necessary to help get you and your family the justice you deserve.
Please contact GWC today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with a personal injury attorney. You may call our office at (312) 464-1234 or click here to chat with a representative at any time.