Jun 10, 2014, 10:59 AM EST
In most walks of life, whether someone is liable to you for injuries caused by alleged negligence is determined by a judgment call: was the harm foreseeable and did they act reasonably to prevent the harm from occurring? That’s a matter for a jury to decide, and the jury can take all of the specific facts of the case into account in making that determination.
Ballpark operators, however, have typically had a safe harbor that shields them from having a jury decide whether they acted prudently. It’s called “The Baseball Rule,” and it’s a legal doctrine which underpins those little “we’re not liable for you getting injured by flying balls and bats” disclaimers on the back of your ticket.
The way it’s usually formulated by the courts is that stadium owners and operators must provide “screened seats for as many spectators as may be reasonably expected to call for them on any ordinary occasion,” and that if they do that, they’re legally absolved of liability. Typically, providing screens behind home plate and around to each side to some degree puts owners in the safe harbor. In that case, it’s a matter of law, not fact, and the judge will usually dismiss the case before it ever gets to a jury.
That rule has been challenged more and more in recent years. It’s still the majority rule across U.S. jurisdictions, but last year, for example, an Idaho court refused to adopt it in the case of a man injured by a foul ball and allowed a jury to decide whether the ballpark owner acted reasonably based on the facts and circumstances of the case rather than to simply dismiss it per The Baseball Rule. Now, in Atlanta, a family is challenging it in the wake of their six-year-old daughter suffering traumatic brain injury from a foul ball at a Braves game in 2010.
I get asked about The Baseball Rule a lot and I’ll admit that I’ve never felt 100% confident about it either way. On the one hand, baseball’s arguments for it are reasonable: fans actually want to catch foul balls and don’t like sitting behind the screen unless they’re right down low. If you put teams in the legal crosshairs for foul ball injuries and/or mandate that they put screens way down the lines teams will have little choice but to either move fans far from the action or block their view, making the product they’re selling — good seats at a ballgame — far less attractive. No one really wins in that scenario.
On the other hand, the ballpark experience has changed quite a bit since The Baseball Rule was first recognized. There are more distractions from game action. It’s far more of a family product than it used to be and you thus get a lot of little kids who can’t be expected to defend themselves from foul balls in the stands. Parks are also far more full and seats behind the screens are far more expensive than they used to be, making that part of The Baseball Rule in which spectators “may reasonably call” for screened seats potentially unworkable. Teams are often forcing people to choose between being out in the bleachers or paying $250 for a screened seat.
I don’t want to turn ballparks into padded cells, but I also think that the risks, particularly to children, of sitting in unprotected seats down the lines are undersold by teams and under appreciated by fans. It’s dangerous down there. Maybe a good step in between letting ballpark operators off the hook completely and making them liable absolutely is to make them warn fans far more explicitly. To actually publicize to fans what can actually happen to you if you’re hit by a screaming foul ball. To make fans actually assume the risk in the form of an actual waiver instead of the assumed one written on the backs of tickets which are rarely if ever read. Perhaps to make people who take young children to games explicitly disclaim responsibility or else not sit in unprotected seats.
As it is now, the warnings are pretty passive and the risks not as well-known as they could be. And the disclaimer system is something of a joke. Making each of these things more rigorous might have some small costs involved — kid-priced seats so as to identify and differentiate those who would sit in dangerous seats with children? A second piece of paper or an usher with a clipboard taking actual liability waivers? — but those costs pale compared to the sorts of liability awards teams might face if The Baseball Rule continues to be eroded.
And they pale even more definitively compared to the price some people, particularly some children, have paid with their health and even their lives.
Jan 31, 2015, 11:25 PM EST
Meghan King Edmonds and Katie Chadwick Hamilton, the wives of Jim and Josh respectively, will appear on the tenth season of The Real Housewives of Orange County.
Jan 31, 2015, 10:40 PM EST
Brandon Workman will enter spring training as a reliever, attempting to grab a scarce spot at the back of the Red Sox bullpen.
Jan 31, 2015, 9:50 PM EST
The Padres are still interested in Phillies ace Cole Hamels, though they may not be able to put together an enticing enough deal to attain him.
Jan 31, 2015, 9:00 PM EST
The Braves may have pawned off many of their productive players, but Freddie Freeman still thinks they’ll compete in 2015.
Jan 31, 2015, 8:10 PM EST
Jayson Werth signed an inmate handbook for someone during his stay in jail in Fairfax, Virginia.
Jan 31, 2015, 7:10 PM EST
Ernie Banks, who played 19 seasons in the major leagues, made an enormous impact on the game of baseball. That has been evident in the wonderful stories that have been shared over the last week.
Jan 31, 2015, 6:05 PM EST
The Rays added some depth, signing reliever Ronald Belisario on Saturday. It appears they’ll be adding infielder Alexi Casilla as well.
Jan 31, 2015, 5:30 PM EST
Baxter appeared in four games with the Dodgers last season and owns a .225/.331/.342 batting line in the majors. He’ll always be aces with Mets fans, though.
Jan 31, 2015, 4:39 PM EST
Richards emerged as one of the best pitchers in the American League last season before tearing his left patellar tendon in August.
Jan 31, 2015, 4:11 PM EST
Hendrickson turned 40 last June and hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2011, but he still hopes to continue his playing career.
Jan 31, 2015, 3:15 PM EST
Padres general manager A.J. Preller has been very active on the trade front this offseason, but he might not be done yet.
Jan 31, 2015, 2:05 PM EST
Orioles slugger Chris Davis was on hand for the team’s annual FanFest today and opened up about the 25-game Adderall suspension which put an end to his disappointing 2014 campaign and left him on the sidelines during the playoffs.
Jan 31, 2015, 12:40 PM EST
The Brewers remain in the market for a closer, but trade talks for Papelbon don’t have much momentum at the moment.
Jan 31, 2015, 11:25 AM EST
Aardsma pitched exclusively in the Cardinals minor league system last year, but he’s hoping to get back on the radar in 2015.
Jan 31, 2015, 10:10 AM EST
While MLB still needs to give their approval, it appears that Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada is one step closer to finally signing with a team.
Jan 31, 2015, 8:56 AM EST
Buxton repeats as MLB.com’s top prospect despite an injury-plagued 2014.
Jan 30, 2015, 10:50 PM EST
Neal Cotts battled numerous injuries and nearly called it quits before the Rangers signed him to a minor league deal in 2012.
Jan 30, 2015, 9:40 PM EST
Joe Kelly has some bold words for non-believers.
Jan 30, 2015, 8:30 PM EST
Yasiel Puig meant it in a good way!
Jan 30, 2015, 7:20 PM EST
The Rockies addressed their depth on Friday, signing reliever Rafael Betancourt and utility infielder Omar Quintanilla to minor league deals.
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