Consumer law part of Super Bowl ticket dispute

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A Texas consumer-protection law could factor into potential lawsuits against the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL seeking reparations after unfinished temporary sections of Cowboys Stadium prevented ticket-holders from using their seats for the Super Bowl.

The Deceptive Trade Practices Consumer Protection Act, designed to protect against false or misleading business practices, may provide relief to the fans who had to watch the game from standing-room-only platforms or underground lounges, said Trey Branham, a partner with Dallas-based Goldfarb Branham.

"You sell someone something that is not what you represent it to be," Branham said. "Then you are liable for not only what you sold them but the damages it caused."

During Super Bowl XLV Sunday, when the Steelers lost to the Green Bay Packers, 1,250 fans could not use their seats because guard rails on stairways leading to temporary seating sections had not been completed and the Arlington Fire Department declared the sections unsafe. Officials with the NFL and the Cowboys found seats for 850 of them, but could not do so for 400 others. Those 400 watched the game from a bar that was behind the Steelers' bench, but below field level with no live view of the game, or while standing near the top of the stadium.

The NFL offered to pay the 400 who did not get seats three times the face value of the tickets, which was $800 for the affected sections, and give them tickets to Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis. Websites such as suesuperbowl.com and superbowlsuit.com have launched so fans who want to mount a legal challenge against the NFL can coordinate their efforts.

"We're more concerned with making sure we take care of the fans in an appropriate way, and that's what we're going to focus on," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Monday when asked about fans possibly suing the league.

Potential plaintiffs in a lawsuit could sue the NFL, the Cowboys or both, said Douglas Branson, the W. Edward Sell Professor of Business Law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

"If you sue them both, they would file what's called cross claims against one another," Branson said. "They would fight it out amongst each other [over] who's going to pay what percentage of whatever damage total is found."

The suit could fall under breach-of-contract law, the deceptive trade practices act or fraud, Branson and Branham said. Under the deceptive trade practices act, the plaintiffs could recover their travel and lodging expenses, as well as what they paid for their tickets as opposed to face value, Branham said. If a court determines the deception was willful or reckless, the plaintiffs are entitled to triple the damages.

"The law says, at least in Texas, that lost experience, that's worth something," he said.

A fraud claim, which Branham said would be difficult to prove, would allow for punitive damages, which he said could be three to five times the actual damages.

Branham said his office fielded inquiries about pursuing legal action, and that right now his firm is investigating. Michael Avenatti, a founding partner of Los Angeles-based Eagan Avenatti, said his firm is preparing to file a class-action lawsuit representing approximately 1,000 people against the NFL, the Cowboys and team owner Jerry Jones. He said the suit will ask for the repayment of what fans paid for their tickets as well as travel costs.

"We think that this is a pretty straightforward matter," Avenatti said. "People did not obtain what they were told they were going to get."


Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com .


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