Eric Smith says he was falsely identified as the Cleveland Browns fan who threw his beer on Tennessee Titans player Logan Ryan during the Browns home opener on September 8, and now he is filed a lawsuit seeking relief.
On October 14, Smith and wife Antinuch Naowarat filed a Complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Cuyahoga County, Ohio seeking damages based on causes of action of negligence, defamation, negligent infliction of emotional distress, false light and loss of consortium. The Browns, First Energy Stadium and National Football League Security are included as defendants in the action.
The incident at issue was captured by journalist Jim Wyatt, who has been covering the Titans since 1999 and is currently a senior writer with Titans Online. Wyatt tweeted a video of Ryan being doused by beer following a Malcolm Butler interception that was brought back for a touchdown. The video clearly shows a fan in a Browns jersey and white hat pouring beer on the player.
However, within days of the incident, Smith, a plaintiff in the newly filed civil action, publicly stated that he was being punished for the incident without cause. In fact, Smith said that he he did not even attend the game. Instead, he was at home relaxing with his wife and kids before he left his house to DJ a wedding.
In his Complaint, Smith added that he had not been to a Browns game in more than nine years.
He claims that the Browns have thus exibited “gross and inexcusable conduct” that was a “breach of trust, confidence, decency, stewardship and professionalism” that have caused him and his wife irreparable harm.
If Smith’s allegations are true, then it appears that the Browns made a big mistake in identifying him as the culprit and then instituting a punishment in the form of permanently banning him from Browns games. That said, damages may be difficult to prove. If Smith had not attended a Browns game in over nine years, then what was the likelihood that he would be attending a game in the near future, anyway? Further, if the Browns remove the ban and Smith had not intended to attend a game during the period that he was banned, then it seems that at least that potential component of damages would be ameliorated.
In Smith’s claim for defamation, he will need to prove reputational harm. The so-called “panic attack” that he allegedly suffered will likely not be considered for this particular cause of action. Instead, the focus will remain on any alleged reputational harm, which he vaguely states in his Complaint. He says that he has endured “riducule” and “injuring his trade and profession.” Even if he can prove same, quantifying the damages may be a difficult task.
It also does not appear that the count for negligent infliction of emotional distress will stand. In Ohio, Smith would need to show that he reasonably appreciated the peril that took place and, as a result of that peril, suffered serious emotional distress. Yet, he says he was not even in attendance when the underlying act took place. Further, Smith would need to demonstrate serious emotional distress, which is a tall burden for someone who was merely banned from attending Browns games that he admits he was not attending for almost a decade, anyway.
Finally, it is a stretch to claim that Smith’s wife has been “deprived of the society, comfort, companionship, and consortium” of Smith since all of this took place. She will certainly be opening herself up to some uncomfortable discovery should the case survive a motion to dismiss, which will undoubtedly be filed. Hopefully her lawyer told her to be very cautious about what she posts on social media..