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.
Sep 1, 2014, 8:45 AM EDT
Well, it’s not his (or his estate’s) house anymore. Likely wasn’t for decades. But if someone wants Jon Voight’s LeBaron, someone will probably buy this, right?
Sep 1, 2014, 6:00 AM EDT
And part of the reason for this reminder is that, while Major League Baseball sees fit to commemorate most other holidays that occur during the baseball season, it has always given Labor Day short shrift.
Aug 31, 2014, 11:35 PM EDT
The Blue Jays added an outfield bench bat, picking up John Mayberry, Jr. from the Phillies on Sunday.
Aug 31, 2014, 11:05 PM EDT
The Brewers tried but ultimately failed to acquire David Price from the Rays in July because they refused to part with pitcher Jimmy Nelson.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:30 PM EDT
Bryce Harper entered August with numbers far below expectations. He’ll enter September with much better-looking stats thanks to a decent showing in August, including a spectacular finish on Sunday.
Aug 31, 2014, 9:35 PM EDT
Aroldis Chapman has had a great season, as usual, but he could do something no pitcher has done since the implementation of pitch-tracking technology in 2006.
Aug 31, 2014, 8:40 PM EDT
Is it really a good thing if one’s team is one of only two teams in the last 113 years to have four relatively old players accrue a significant amount of playing time?
Aug 31, 2014, 7:45 PM EDT
The Yankees picked up Chaz Roe on the cheap from the Marlins on Sunday, just ahead of the waiver deadline.
Aug 31, 2014, 6:55 PM EDT
Adam Dunn is ready to call it a career, he told the media on Sunday after he was traded from the White Sox to the Athletics.
Aug 31, 2014, 6:05 PM EDT
Kolten Wong hit his head on the ground pursuing a ball hit by Chris Valaika in the eighth inning of Sunday’s game against the Cubs. He was helped off the field, and he’ll undergo testing after the game.
Aug 31, 2014, 5:11 PM EDT
Rusney Castillo made his debut in MLB-affiliated ball on Sunday afternoon with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox, singling through the left side of the infield in his first of two plate appearances and striking out looking in his second.
Aug 31, 2014, 4:17 PM EDT
Watch as Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista leaves the yard for the fifth time in five games Sunday afternoon against the Yankees …
Aug 31, 2014, 3:25 PM EDT
Derek Jeter’s retirement tour continued Sunday afternoon at Rogers Centre in Toronto, where the Blue Jays presented him a $10,000 check for his Turn 2 Foundation and this really cool trip …
Aug 31, 2014, 2:33 PM EDT
Hyun-Jin Ryu is back in the Dodgers’ starting rotation after missing a little over two weeks with a strained glute and Juan Uribe is back at third base after sitting out 15 days with a strained hamstring.
Aug 31, 2014, 1:48 PM EDT
The National League Central-leading Brewers just made a pretty significant upgrade to their bullpen. From Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com comes word that Milwaukee has acquired right-handed reliever Jonathan Broxton in a waiver trade with the Reds.
Aug 31, 2014, 12:55 PM EDT
Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera had to leave the second half of Saturday’s doubleheader against the White Sox after struggling to make it down the first base line on a fourth-inning groundout. He’s been battling a right ankle injury for several weeks, and it seems only to be getting worse.
Aug 31, 2014, 11:49 AM EDT
The A’s announced Sunday morning that they have acquired veteran designated hitter Adam Dunn from the White Sox for minor league reliever Nolan Sanburn.
Aug 31, 2014, 11:37 AM EDT
Yankees center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is sitting out a second consecutive game after injuring his left ankle on a slide into home plate Friday night …
Aug 31, 2014, 10:53 AM EDT
Jay Bruce finished 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in Saturday’s loss to the Pirates and is now batting .217/.292/.369 with 130 strikeouts in 114 total games this season. He’s sporting a career-worst .661 OPS and it looks like he’ll finish with fewer than 20 home runs for the first time since breaking into the major leagues in 2008.
Aug 31, 2014, 10:01 AM EDT
White Sox veteran slugger Adam Dunn appears willing to waive his no-trade clause and join a contending team for his first taste of postseason baseball …
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- Reds trade setup man Jonathan Broxton to the Brewers 15
- Miguel Cabrera sits Sunday with nagging ankle injury 12
- A’s acquire veteran slugger Adam Dunn from the White Sox 54
- Settling the Score: Saturday’s results 18
- Orioles acquire Kelly Johnson from the Red Sox 15
- Orioles acquire Alejandro De Aza from the White Sox 6
- Bryce Harper is 15th player in MLB history to reach 50 career homers before age-22 season 31
- Could women play major league baseball? Sure. Right now, though, the deck is stacked against them. (220)
- Forgiveness for Pete Rose? Not in this lifetime (146)
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- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights (75)