The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled Thursday that a federal district court was right to dismiss the fan's claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. But the lower court was told to take another look at the lawsuit's claim of assault and battery.
The fan charged that Bryant had knocked his seat back as he charged after the ball in a 2005 game against the Memphis Grizzlies, but then forearmed him in the chest.
The western Tennessee district court ruled that fans sitting courtside assume the risk of such contact. But the three-judge appeals panel said that wouldn't include the alleged forearm shove.
The fan, Bill Geeslin of Blytheville, Ark., has since died. His estate is continuing the lawsuit.
Bryant was trying to grab a pass when he careened out of bounds. Geeslin's complaint said that while getting up to resume play, Bryant pushed his forearm into his chest "in an unnecessary and forceful manner, causing him injury." Geeslin said he later needed treatment for a bruised lung cavity.
The initial lawsuit asked for at least US$75,000 in damages.
"Overall, I'm pleased. The court .... sustained our position on those primary claims," said Robert Coleman, the plaintiff's lawyer.
A message was left for Bryant's lawyer, who could appeal Thursday's ruling.