As the leaves begin to fall, the post-season of America's favorite pastime gains momentum as fans pack stadiums across the country to catch a glimpse of post-season history. But for some fans, the excitement of a game is crushed when a ball comes off the bat only to hit someone in the stands. When this tragedy occurs, the question asked is, "Who is liable?" Unfortunately, that answer is not a simple one.
Assumption of Risk
When you enter a baseball stadium, you assume a number of risks, most of which are outlined on the back of your ticket. These risks are printed on each ticket to protecting the stadium, teams, and players from lawsuits when a foul ball hits someone in the stands. In order for that injured fan to recover in a lawsuit, they would need to prove that the stadium was negligent. They must show that (1) the stadium had a duty to take reasonable care to protect its patrons; (2) the stadium violated their duty; and (3) the stadium's violation led to the injuries you received. While a foul ball does not generally fall into this, the injured fan would recover if they could show the stadium failed to maintain the facility, netting or other fan protections.
The Baseball Rule and Extended Stadium Netting
A long-established legal principle called "The Baseball Rule", prohibits a fan injured by a baseball or shards of a broken bat, from making a claim against the team or the owner of a stadium. But with the occurrence of injuries this season, many players and teams have renewed the argument to extend the protective netting to cover the area from foul pole to foul pole. A vast majority of stadiums only maintain netting to the team dugouts. Unfortunately, the Major League Baseball rules and current collective bargaining agreement do not require teams to extend the netting to the foul poles. A decision like this is made on a stadium by stadium basis. While a small number of stadiums have taken steps to extend protective netting past the dugouts, a vast majority of stadiums have not.
While the argument to extend the safety netting continues to unfold, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself while at a game. Most importantly, put the cell phone down and focus on the game. We are more distracted than ever by our cell phones and this distraction causes us to look away from the field of play and that potential ball headed into your seating section. By focusing on the field of play, you not only learn more about the game, but you protect yourself by being aware of what may be coming.