Former Houston Texans punter Brett Hartmann is suing the owners of Reliant Stadium, and the company that provides the grass playing surface, for negligence in a career-threatening knee injury he sustained when his foot got caught in a seam during a game last December.
Unlike other stadiums, where grass is laid out in a single piece, Reliant's field is laid out in approximately 1,200 8' x 8' squares, whose seams can -- and have -- posed serious threats to players' safety, Hartmann's attorney, Gene Egdorf, said at a press conference today.
Hartmann was already NFL's leading rookie punter by the time of the Texans' December 4, 2011, game against the Atlanta Falcons, when his foot got caught in a seam in the last minute of the game, according to the lawsuit. (The Texans won 17-10).
He was cut from the Texans in August 2012 after being diagnosed with a torn ACL and a fractured lower leg.
Pennsylvania-based SMG, which provides the grass, "had a legal duty...to reduce or eliminate any unreasonable risks of harm and to warn [players] of any premises defects," the suit claims. The Harris County Convention and Sports Corporation, which owns Reliant, has "the duty to provide these players with a reasonably safe playing surface, including preventing unreasonable risks of harm."
Additionally, the suit alleges that the field was already torn up from other events "in the days and weeks prior to Hartmann's injury," including high school games the night before.
"Sadly, several players other than Hartmann have suffered serious injuries solely attributable to the field, including New Englands Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker, who suffered a serious knee injury in 2009," according to the suit. "Three-time Super Bowl winning coach Bill Belichick was highly critical of the field surface, saying 'the turf down there is terrible...I really think it's one of the worst [fields] I've seen.' Another critic is former Tampa Bay and Indianapolis Coach Tony Dungy, also a Super Bowl winner and now an analyst with NBC. Dungy has been quoted as stating the Colts were 'definitely concerned about the injury factor' when playing on Reliant's field."
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Video from the game proves the seam caused Hartmann's injury, according to the suit.
Egdorf said that, in addition to seeking unknown monetary damages, "We hope this gets attention to where we don't lose any more of our athletes at Reliant Stadium."
Hartmann, who now lives in Wisconsin with his fiance Lizzy Burkwald, said he's being treated by doctors in Milwaukee and Green Bay.
We left messages with the HCCSC and SMG and will update accordingly.