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.
Oct 21, 2014, 6:42 AM EDT
After four days without baseball, the World Series finally kicks off. Wait, not, it begins. “Kicks off” is a football term and dumb football is the whole reason we had to wait four days for the World Series to start.
Oct 20, 2014, 11:01 PM EDT
The Cardinals expect that Wainwright will benefit from normal rest during the offseason.
Oct 20, 2014, 9:46 PM EDT
Molitor has been considered the favorite for the job and now he’s having another meeting with GM Terry Ryan.
Oct 20, 2014, 8:31 PM EDT
Choate posted a 4.50 ERA over 61 appearances this season, but he held left-handed batters to an .093/.205/.147 batting line.
Oct 20, 2014, 7:40 PM EDT
Bogar served as former manager Ron Washington’s bench coach and then went 14-8 as interim manager for a team that had been horrible until that point.
Oct 20, 2014, 7:16 PM EDT
The Yankees aren’t hiring Dave Magadan as hitting coach, but he could be the favorite for the A’s job after Chili Davis left for the Red Sox.
Oct 20, 2014, 6:23 PM EDT
Royals manager Ned Yost chose Jason Vargas over James Shields to start Game 4 of the ALCS and now we know one factor that played into the decision: Shields was busy passing a kidney stone.
Oct 20, 2014, 6:13 PM EDT
Following in the footsteps of fellow MLB players Robinson Cano, CC Sabathia, and his teammate and countryman Rusney Castillo, Red Sox outfielder Yoenis Cespedes will now be represented by Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports.
Oct 20, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT
Hudson revealed during today’s media session that the Royals actually made him a “very good offer.”
Oct 20, 2014, 5:09 PM EDT
Wanna buy the Royals’ recyclables?
Oct 20, 2014, 4:48 PM EDT
He was determined to leave the A’s either way.
Oct 20, 2014, 4:33 PM EDT
Someone asked Sergio Romo what country he’s from at media day today. Last I checked, California was still part of the United States.
Oct 20, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT
Morse has yet to start a game in the playoffs, but he hit .279 with 16 homers and an .811 OPS in 131 games during the regular season to rank second on the team in OPS behind only Buster Posey.
Oct 20, 2014, 3:40 PM EDT
Jay played through the injury since July, yet he hit .325 in August and September before going 14-for-29 (.483) in the postseason.
Oct 20, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
Because it is unheard of for Yankees players to have outside interests.
Oct 20, 2014, 2:48 PM EDT
Keller spent 16 total seasons coaching in the Yankees organization, the last six of which have been on the MLB staff.
Oct 20, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT
“Taijuan is completely healthy and was very impressive in his two outings, but made a personal decision that he needed to return home at this time.”
Oct 20, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Every time there’s a bad call, Don Denkinger’s name gets mentioned. Now that the Royals are in the World Series, it’ll be mentioned more.
Oct 20, 2014, 1:47 PM EDT
His overall numbers, while not as ridiculously amazing as 2013, included a 2.52 ERA and 80/8 K/BB ratio in 64 innings.
Oct 20, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
Oakland is looking to replace Chili Davis.
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