A former Houston Texans punter filed a negligence suit against the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp. and a Pennsylvania management company Nov. 16, alleging he was seriously injured when he tripped on a seam in the grass on the Reliant Stadium field while playing a game last December.
Brett Hartmann brings a negligence cause of action against SMG, a venue management company based in West Conshochocken, Pa., and a negligence cause of action under the Texas Tort Claims Act and a vicarious liability claim against the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp., which owns Reliant Stadium.
Hartmann, currently a free agent after the Texans cut him from the team in August, seeks unspecified actual damages and interest, costs and attorneys’ fees from the defendants.
Willie Loston, executive director of the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp., declines comment on the allegations in Brett Hartmann v. SMG, et al. because he has not read the petition. Wes Westley, president and CEO of SMG, did not return a telephone message left at SMG.
Hartmann alleges in the petition filed in the 334th District Court in Harris County that he suffered a “significant and career-threatening knee injury” after a punt during a game on Dec. 4, 2011 against the Atlanta Falcons at Reliant Stadium.
“Knee injuries of course are unfortunately not uncommon for professional football players. Such injuries, however, are extremely rare for punters, and even rarer during plays where there is no physical contact. Instead, Hartmann suffered his devastating injury when his foot was caught in a seam in the grass turf,” he alleges in the petition.
He alleges the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp. contracted with SMG to “operate and manage Reliant Stadium.” He alleges the defendants have a duty to provide Houston Texans players with a “reasonably safe playing surface,” but the surface on Dec. 4, 2011, was “simply unsafe and unsuitable for its purpose, professional football.”
He alleges that while many people assume grass is a “safer” surface for football stadiums, that’s not the case at Reliant Stadium.
“Inexplicably, rather than letting the grass grow on the field in one ‘piece’ as it is at most other NFL stadiums utilizing grass, the turf for Reliant Stadium is transported into the stadium in 8’x8’ pieces, known as ‘trays’ (‘Grass Trays’), thus including innumerable seams and uneven partitions,” Hartmann alleges in the petition.
SMG is responsible for “rolling and checking the field to eliminate the seams” but its efforts are “hardly successful,” Hartmann alleges.
He alleges that during the Dec. 4, 2011, game, two other Houston Texans players also sustained injuries to their legs on plays where they were “untouched.”
Hartmann alleges he suffered serious injuries to his leg, including a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), he has already had two surgeries on his knee and doctors have informed him he needs another.
“Prior to his injury, Hartmann was the leading rookie punter in the National Football League. Now, as a result of the Defendants’ negligence and conscious indifference to player safety, Hartmann may never play again,” he alleges in the petition.
An attorney for Hartmann, Eugene Egdorf (pictured at left), an attorney with the Lanier Law Firm of Houston, says his client has seen four or five doctors, and each has said Hartmann needs additional surgery.
-- Brenda Sapino Jeffreys