In the midst of a bustling off-season, during which the Saints are busy attempting to improve their team through free agency and preparing to host the 2013 Super Bowl, news of the Bounty Gate scandal has shaken the team. While the Saints, other NFL teams and football fans alike patiently wait to see how the NFL will penalize the team for its alleged involvement in a bounty program, the legal ramifications of the program must also be considered. Yesterday, RulingSports.com described what legal ramifications Saints players who injured opponents as a result of participating in the bounty program may face. Today, RulingSports.com will target the legal ramifications that Saints coaches and the Saints as an organization could face as a result of the existence of the bounty program.
As discussed yesterday, legal action against Saints players resulting from their alleged participation in the bounty program would largely fall into two categories: tort actions and criminal actions. These two areas of law would also shape the potential legal action that the Saints and its coaches may face.
In the criminal realm, members of the Saints’ coaching staff could face conspiracy charges. A conspiracy exists when there is an agreement between two or more persons who have an intent to enter into the agreement and intend to achieve the unlawful purpose of the agreement.
If reports are accurate, in this instance, there was an agreement between two or more persons–namely, Saints assistant coach Gregg Williams and 26 to 27 defensive Saints players. This agreement was one in which in exchange for a specified compensation, the players would attempt to carry out plays on the field with the intent of removing opposing players from the game. Furthermore, it is arguable that both sides intended to enter into the agreement, as specific payouts were delineated for specific performances. Finally, both sides arguably intended to achieve the agreement’s unlawful purpose. Here, as described yesterday, the unlawful purpose would be committing assault and battery on opposing teams’ players. The parties arguably intended to commit assault and battery on opposing teams’ players, because there allegedly was a pool of money that was distributed to players if they made plays which caused opposing teams’ players to leave games with injuries.
Thus, it is possible that a criminal prosecutor could bring conspiracy charges against coaches and players who agreed to participate in the bounty program. The likelihood, however, of a criminal prosecutor bringing these charges is fairly slim. First, because the NFL has its own sanctions, a prosecutor would likely be unmotivated to use taxpayer dollars to prosecute the case. Additionally, the statute of limitations for bringing a charge of conspiracy may have expired. Depending upon whether the charge would be brought as a misdemeanor or felony, the statute of limitations for conspiracy in Louisiana is either two or four years.
The Saints organization could also face legal ramifications as a result of the existence of the bounty program. The Saints’ legal liability would largely fall into the realm of tort law.
Here, the Saints would be seen as the employer of the various coaches and players allegedly involved in the bounty program. A legal theory called “respondeat superior” essentially holds employers liable for torts committed by employees within the scope of their employment.
The issue within this instance, is whether the actions allegedly committed by some Saints players and coaches through their participation in the bounty program fell within the scope of their employment. The Saints organization would argue that the bounty program was outside the scope of employment, since the NFL as an organization prohibits bounties. Thus, because such behavior is prohibited by the NFL, the Saints would argue that it inherently could not be considered part of participating coaches and players’ employment.
However, case law exists which states that prohibition of certain actions does not necessarily remove conduct from the scope of employment. Additionally, while intentional torts (like the assault and battery, which are at issue here) are not normally considered to be within the scope of an employee’s employment, certain factors could nonetheless make an employer liable for its employee’s intentional torts. For instance, where the nature of work gives rise to hostilities (as is such in the NFL), where force is authorized in the type of employment (as is such in the NFL) or where an employee is promoting an employer’s business (as was arguably the case here, as the participating members were likely trying to prove the team’s performance), then an employer can be held liable for the torts of its employees.
Finally, tort action could be brought against the Saints as an organization by arguing that the organization ratified the actions of the alleged participants of the bounty program. To ratify tortious behavior, an employer must know of all of the material facts related to the tortious conduct. Per reports, there are indications that members of the Saints organization allegedly knew of the existence of the bounty program and did not fully stop the program. Thus, such action arguably amounted to ratifying the intentional torts being committed through the bounty program. As such, it is possible that the Saints organization could face causes of action brought in tort.
However, as with the other potential legal ramifications stemming from the alleged bounty program, the statute of limitations may also prevent bringing actions in this regard.
Furthermore, other procedural and evidentiary issues will likely limit the bringing of lawsuits as a result of the existence of the alleged bounty program. First, a significant amount of money would need to be spent discovering evidence which could be used to prove that opposing teams’ players were intentionally injured, outside the course of the normal roughness of NFL football, as a result of the bounty program’s existence.
Regardless, the possibility for new legal precedent exists as a result of this groundbreaking allegation that players and coaches participated in a bounty program.