A Connecticut woman has filed a lawsuit against the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Club claiming that during this year’s parade she was struck in the face by a cabbage, which knocked her off her feet and caused injuries that required several surgeries, according to federal court documents.
Jean Brown’s lawsuit, filed in federal court in New Orleans on Wednesday, says the cabbage was “thrown overhand, like a baseball” by “a float rider from the top deck of a float,” according to the lawsuit, which also names the parade’s insurance underwriter, Lloyd’s of London.
Brown’s suit contends the cabbage was tossed “through the deliberate and wanton act or gross negligence” of the unidentified float rider.
The annual St. Patrick’s parade typically draws hundreds of marchers and riders who parade in tuxedos, some trading flowers for kisses along the route.
Cabbages are considered a prized throw of the parade, which celebrates Irish heritage. Carrots, onions and MoonPies also are often tossed into the crowds.
The lawsuit asks for more than $75,000 in damages. It states that Brown suffered “severe and disabling injuries, including but not limited to bleeding, multiple fractures to her face, compression to her facial nerves, a break in her eye socket, a tear in her cornea, surgeries and also likely requiring future surgeries.”
Brown and her New Orleans lawyer, Rufus Harris, did not return messages.
The Irish Channel club dates to the late 1940s. Ronnie Burke, the club’s vice president, said it was started by his grandfather and later was led by his father.
Burke said Friday he had heard about a woman who was injured at the parade but said he had not seen the lawsuit.
He said the club has strict rules for handling the cabbages it tosses to spectators and that it works to adhere to the same rules the city sets for Carnival krewes. “The cabbage is supposed to be handed, or an underhand toss, no more than maybe 5 feet from the float,” he said. “If it’s thrown overhand, that is absolutely against our rules and our regulations.”
The club takes steps to ensure that riders follow the rules, he said, including having cameras set up to record the parade at different points along the route, in case reprimands need to be handed down later. But Burke admitted that post-parade policing doesn’t really curb rule-breaking during the parade, and he said float lieutenants keep an eye on riders.
“That’s the problem. We usually don’t catch them when they’re on camera,” he said, though he added that the float lieutenants often manage the situation themselves. “The lieutenants have come back and told us about people and the lieutenants have kicked them off the floats. That can happen either with it being a cabbage or not adhering to the safety rules that we have,” he said.
Burke said this is the first time the St. Patrick’s Day club has been sued by someone claiming to have been injured during its parade. But for some Carnival krewes, the threat of litigation has loomed over parades for years, said Arthur Hardy, a Carnival historian and publisher of the Mardi Gras Guide.
Hardy’s annual guide in 2013 noted several instances of litigation since the so-called “Coconut Law” went into effect in 1988. That state law added coconuts to the list of throws for which Carnival krewes are given some protection from liability, unless a rider is guilty of “a deliberate and wanton act” or acts with “gross negligence,” according to the guide.
The rising insurance costs stemming from litigation were enough to convince the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club to temporarily stop distributing its prize coconuts in 1987, according to the guide, which recapped a few examples where Carnival spectators have sued over injuries suffered from throws, including people who were struck in the face by bags of beads. Zulu later passed a rule requiring riders to hand coconuts to individual spectators rather than throwing them into the crowd.
In one case that garnered national publicity, a retired schoolteacher was struck in the head by a coconut in 2006. She claimed later that she subsequently suffered from head injuries, nightmares, depression and “a loss of interest in Mardi Gras.” In 2010, the court absolved the coconut tosser of gross negligence, according to the Mardi Gras Guide article.
Hardy said most parade spectators in New Orleans know to keep a lookout for flying objects. He compared parades to a baseball game: “If you go to an event where things are thrown, you might get hit.”
“There’s some expectation at a parade that things are coming off floats, and if you don’t want to be in the line of fire, then protect yourself or step back,” he said.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.