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No Flag on the Field for Football Game Mishap

(CN) - An elderly woman whose leg was broken when a high school football player crashed into her on the sidelines does not have a case against the school district, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled.

Helen Barton was one of 3,000 spectators who gathered in August 2007 to watch a Barrow High School football game in Alaska's North Slope. With most of the audience filling the bleachers, Barton joined a group of fans along the sidelines.

At the end of one play, several players ran out of bounds, and one collided with Barton, breaking her leg and injuring her knee, hip and back.

She sued the North Slope Borough School District for negligent design of the Barrow High School football field.

The district argued that the risks of standing on the sidelines at a football game were open and obvious, but landscape architect Juliet Vong wrote an expert report for Barton that fields should feature barriers to keep fans at least 20 to 25 feet away from the action.

The trial court excluded this testimony as inadmissible, however, and a jury found the district not negligent in August 2010.

On appeal, the Alaska Supreme Court found that excluding the report was an error because Vong would have testified about the standard run-off distance, according to a "Sports Fields" manual.

Concluding that the error was harmless, however, the court affirmed the jury's verdict.

"The exclusion of Vong's testimony was harmless because the district never challenged that a 25- to 30-foot runoff area was the standard," Justice Dana Fabe wrote on the court's behalf.

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