Three Years After Ice Fell from Cowboys Stadium, the Legal Battles Wage On

At least six people were injured by blocks of ice and snow sliding off the roof of Cowboys Stadium during Super Bowl Week in 2011. But in the aftermath, Arlington officials suggested that the guy who suffered the worst injuries had only himself to blame.

In emails released by the City of Arlington in February 2011, Battalion Chief David Stapp described one head-injury victim as someone who recklessly disobeyed the orders he received from S.A.F.E. Management, the security contracted by the NFL. "The pt [patient] with the head injury from falling ice was stopped inside and advised by Safe Management not to exit due to falling ice," Stapp wrote.

Despite the warnings from S.A.F.E., the head-injury patient "forced his way through and was promptly hit by the ice," Stapp went on.

But a lawsuit filed by the head-injury victim tells a very different story. Testimony starts today in what is reportedly the first suit related to Super Bowl XLV to go to trial. (There are also a few lawsuits pending in federal court from angry fans who couldn't make it to their expensive seats on game day).

Severin Sampson arrived at Cowboys Stadium on Friday, February 4, two days before the Super Bowl, to build set pieces for the halftime show. He worked as an electrician and a carpenter. That morning, he was outside moving equipment when the workers heard some rumbling, according to testimony Sampson gave in a 2011 deposition.

On the field, workers talked amongst themselves about the weird occurrence, and then "we were directed to go back to the pavilion to get more set pieces," Sampson testified.

But when the workers walked toward the nearest exit to get those set pieces, it was roped off and deserted, Sampson said, with no security there to re-open it for them. The group walked to another exit. There, security motioned for everyone to leave, but not before demanding that workers show their credentials on the way out.

Sampson said he followed the group, even though he wasn't sure that the exit they were ordered to go through seemed like the safest one. He just wanted to do as he was told. "The credentials say that I had to follow all the directions of the security people," Sampson testified. "The S.A.F.E. people said that any directions given by security had to be followed upon -- if I didn't follow, they could confiscate my credentials. And if they confiscated my credentials, I lost my job."

So when Sampson later heard a S.A.F.E. worker yelling at him to "hold up," as he headed out, he again obeyed the orders. Security apparently wanted to see his credentials, again. "As I turned around to show him my credentials, that's when I saw the ice coming ... and that was the last I remembered for awhile."

The ice was the size of a baseball infield, accompanied by a block of snow. A co-worker dug him out and told him in the ambulance that he was lucky to be alive, he testified. Sampson suffered a skull fracture and still hasn't fully recovered, the lawsuit says.

Sampson's suit is against not just S.A.F.E. but also the Cowboys, the National Football League and the stadium's architects. It charges that the parties failed to consider the risks of ice sliding off the stadium's steel roof and then didn't react fast enough that morning. The suit adds that another victim was hit by ice well over an hour before Sampson's injuries.

That victim, a woman named Tina Kitts, was giving a tour to wounded veterans inside the stadium when she walked outside and was "suddenly and violently engulfed in an avalanche of blocks of ice and snow," according to a separate lawsuit that Kitts filed a few months later.

AT&T Stadium, as it's now called, has since installed an ice guard on the roof. At the time, however, officials relied on a gutter system to drain the ice. In a 2011 deposition, former stadium manager Jack Hill testified that they never bothered hiring a professional to examine the roof after the storm, which occurred the Monday before the game. "I think we were relying on the gutter system around the roof to keep it from hitting the ground and -- and it didn't," Hill said in his deposition.

That Friday morning, about an hour before Sampson was hit, Hill received an email from the architecture firm. The email read: "Jack, ice is sliding off the roof of the stadium, can you please review."

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Amy Martyn
Contact: Amy Martyn