The Washington Commanders are being sued by four New Jersey residents who say they were injured when the railing leading to the tunnel at FedEx Field collapsed and multiple fans fell on the ground from several feet up. They're seeking $75,000 per person for physical and emotional suffering stemming from the collapse.
The suit, filed last Friday in the U.S. District Court of Maryland, was filed on behalf of Michael Naimoli, Andrew Collins, Morgan French and Marissa Santarlasci. Via ESPN, they allege they suffered muscle strains, cervical strains, cuts, bruises and headaches in or as a result of the fall, and they allegedly continue to seek medical treatment for some of those issues.
The Week 17 railing collapse
The railing collapse happened on Jan. 2 at the end of the Philadelphia Eagles' 20-16 win over the Commanders, which also happened to be the final game at FedEx Field for the 2021 season. Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts was walking through the tunnel and Eagles fans had gathered at the railings leading into the tunnel to cheer and congratulate Hurts and other players. Suddenly, one of the railings gave out and numerous fans fell onto the ground from several feet in the air, nearly hitting Hurts.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) January 2, 2022
Hurts stepped out of the way of the tumble and immediately started helping people up. Event staff wearing yellow CSC shirts or windbreakers arrived after everyone got up, and proceeded to physically move some of the fallen fans away from Hurts and the tunnel.
Hurts later wrote a letter to the Commanders to ask them what actions they were taking to increase safety so something like that doesn't happen again.
"Through the initial shock, my first reaction was to assist those involved. However, while I displayed a calm composure, I understand the severity of what happened and am extremely concerned for the well-being of the fans and media. As a result, I would like to know what safeguards the NFL and the Washington Football Team are implementing to prevent this from ever occurring in the future."
If Hurts ever got a response from the Commanders, he never publicly shared it.
Allegations against the Commanders
The four plaintiffs allege in the suit that they were not offered any medical care by team representatives, which contradicts statements and information provided to ESPN's John Keim following the accident.
After the game, Washington said in a statement, "To our knowledge, everyone involved was offered onsite medical evaluation and left the stadium of their own accord."
The team also said stadium representatives took appropriate action and provided medical treatment on-site for anyone who asked. The plaintiffs called "patently false" in the lawsuit.
ESPN was also told the specific area of the stadium was reserved for people with disabilities.
One team official told ESPN after the incident that the area where fans were gathered was for people with disabilities. There were no seats, and it is designed to hold six individuals in wheelchairs plus six people accompanying them.
The railing was not load-bearing — one section was held in place by using a zip tie — and therefore not designed to withstand hundreds of pounds leaning into it.
It's not clear why an ungrounded railing attached with zip ties was being used an area of the stadium designated for people with disabilities, especially since wheelchairs obviously have wheels and might need to be stopped from rolling off the side by a sturdy, load-bearing railing.
The four plaintiffs allege that they were told by a stadium worker that they could go in that area, and were not made aware that the railing was only being held on by zip ties.
"It's beyond negligent to skimp on a safety measure in such a high-visibility, high-trafficked area," attorney Bob Sokolove told ESPN. "Whether it's an NCAA game or a pro basketball game or the NFL, everybody comes to the tunnel where the players are coming out. The weight of everyone pushing forward to get a high-five or a wristband or whatever puts even more pressure on what otherwise were pathetic railings."
The Commanders have yet to release a statement about the lawsuit.