The aftershocks of this year's hockey tragedy are still reverberating. In March, Brittanie Cecil, 13, died after she was struck by a puck at a Blue Jackets game (SI, April 1), the first fan fatality in NHL history. Last week Elizabeth Hahn, 32, of LaGrange Park, Ill., who suffered a brain injury when she was hit by a puck at a Blackhawks game in January, sued the team, the NHL and Chicago's United Center, saying, in effect, that the defendants shouldn't have let her sit in the stands while a game was going on.
Hahn was in the eighth row at a Jan. 6 game against the Penguins when, according to the suit, a puck flew over the protective glass and crashed into her skull. Bleeding profusely, she was rushed to a medical center, where neurosurgeons alleviated a blood clot on her brain. Hahn's right ear lobe was severed by the puck, necessitating plastic surgery. Hahn, a registered nurse, missed three months of work and is seeking compensatory damages to cover medical bills and lost income, as well as unspecified punitive damages, which, according to Hahn's lawyer, Tim Whiting, are "based on [the defendants'] willful and wanton behavior, the fact that they ignored the obvious danger." Lawyers for the Blackhawks and the NHL refused to comment; a United Center lawyer could not be reached.
Proving willful disregard is the key to Hahn's case, and Whiting hopes to do that in part by pointing out that the NHL has discussed installing protective nets behind the goal—a fact he learned through coverage of Brittanie's death in SI and elsewhere. Whiting also learned from press reports that when a fan is hit by a puck, witnesses file an "incident report" with the arena. He hopes to obtain those reports and use them as evidence. Hahn's suit alleges that because the defendants "know that fans are getting hurt all the time and know that the corners behind the goals [where Hahn was sitting] are particularly dangerous," they were willfully negligent in not providing better protection.
If Hahn wins her suit, the NHL could be deluged with similar actions. As for the Cecil case, Brittanie's parents won't say if they'll file a wrongful-death suit, but the team and the NHL are bracing for one. As a Columbus lawyer close to the case said, "You know it's coming."