Jun 10, 2014, 10:59 AM EDT
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.
Jul 23, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
David Price? Cliff Lee? And to where?
Jul 23, 2014, 12:16 PM EDT
Tom Glavine crafted his Hall of Fame career with plenty of skill and wit.
Jul 23, 2014, 12:16 PM EDT
So when are Javier Baez and Kris Bryant getting here?
Jul 23, 2014, 11:51 AM EDT
After back-to-back terrible seasons Jeff Francoeur’s chances of returning to the majors looked so bleak that last month he decided to take up pitching at Triple-A for the Padres’ affiliate, but now San Diego is actually calling him up and presumably he’ll mostly serve as an outfielder.
Jul 23, 2014, 11:37 AM EDT
Remembering when the Avengers played baseball in the Astrodome
Jul 23, 2014, 11:19 AM EDT
The Giants’ 9-6 victory over the Phillies lasted 14 innings, involved 16 pitchers throwing 507 times to the plate, took five hours and 46 minutes, included more cramping than a track meet for septuagenarians and it finally ended 7 minutes before 1 a.m. Wednesday morning at Citizens Bank Park when Tim Lincecum really and truly recorded his first career save.
Jul 23, 2014, 11:03 AM EDT
The converted shortstop is on a roll.
Jul 23, 2014, 10:47 AM EDT
Oakland’s move to acquire Johnson and his $10 million salary from Baltimore never made a ton of sense this offseason and it’s worked out much worse than expected, as he almost immediately lost the closer gig and has a 6.25 ERA with 23 walks in 40 innings.
Jul 23, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
Jeez, Mrs. Hoes. You should’ve asked sooner!
Jul 23, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
While we wait to see if the Phillies will end up trading aces Cole Hamels and/or Cliff Lee, it sounds likely that reliever Antonio Bastardo will be moved before July 31.
Jul 23, 2014, 9:28 AM EDT
One of baseball’s top analysts advocates for one of the dumber ideas you’ll hear in a long while.
Jul 23, 2014, 9:16 AM EDT
Zimmerman has missed 44 games this year. He’s about to miss more.
Jul 23, 2014, 8:55 AM EDT
Off the plane a half hour before game time, the hero by midnight.
Jul 23, 2014, 8:23 AM EDT
A seven nation army couldn’t cheer him up.
Jul 23, 2014, 7:17 AM EDT
Jonathan Lucory hit two homers last night, including the walkoff.
Jul 22, 2014, 10:24 PM EDT
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter made a little more history on Tuesday night against the Rangers …
Jul 22, 2014, 9:37 PM EDT
Casey McGehee entered play on Tuesday evening with a batting average (.322) that is 54 points above his career mean (.268) and an RBI total (56) that ranks ninth in the National League. The 31-year-old third baseman fits the mold of a sell-high candidate. But it doesn’t sound like he’s going to be moved.
Jul 22, 2014, 8:41 PM EDT
Watch as Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin leaps above the right-center field wall at Yankee Stadium to rob Brian McCann of a home run in the bottom of the second inning Tuesday night …
Jul 22, 2014, 7:53 PM EDT
Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker will be called back up from Triple-A Tacoma to start Wednesday night against the Mets at Seattle’s Safeco Field.
Jul 22, 2014, 7:08 PM EDT
Oscar Taveras has started just two of the Cardinals’ last seven games and the left-handed-hitting outfield prospect is not in St. Louis’ starting lineup on Tuesday night against Rays right-hander Jake Odorizzi. Getting the nod instead is the right-handed-hitting Allen Craig. What’s the deal?
- The dizzying intellect of Tom Glavine 0
- Verducci: baseball should think about an “illegal defense” rule to combat shifts 99
- Chase Headley plays the hero in his first game in pinstripes 17
- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights 23
- Rockies place Troy Tulowitzki on the disabled list 18
- Rob Manfred “heavily favored” to be Bud Selig’s replacement 29
- Yankees acquire Chase Headley from Padres 108
- And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights 39