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.
Mar 28, 2015, 11:25 PM EDT
Let Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki tell you how being a free agent is like being a puppy in a pet shop.
Mar 28, 2015, 10:35 PM EDT
Promising Mariners pitching prospect Victor Sanchez died on Saturday night after he was involved in an unfortunate boating accident in February.
Mar 28, 2015, 10:10 PM EDT
Outfielder Nate Schierholtz is a free agent again, opting out of his contract with the Rangers after a disappointing spring showing.
Mar 28, 2015, 9:05 PM EDT
Two baseball superstars put their talented display in spring training action on Saturday afternoon.
Mar 28, 2015, 8:05 PM EDT
More shoulder problems for Jaime Garcia, who has made 16 combined starts since the beginning of the 2013 season.
Mar 28, 2015, 7:15 PM EDT
Shane Victorino didn’t like the way a pair of radio personalities in Boston interpreted his desire to see the Red Sox acquire Cole Hamels from the Phillies.
Mar 28, 2015, 6:25 PM EDT
Giants minor league catcher Matt Paré discussed the thrifty lifestyles minor league players are forced into.
Mar 28, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT
Rodriguez is now batting .306 (11-for-36) with three home runs, a double and a .925 OPS across 15 games this spring.
Mar 28, 2015, 5:18 PM EDT
Lucas Duda is coming off a breakout year with the Mets and the two sides are now discussing a contract extension.
Mar 28, 2015, 4:13 PM EDT
Gregorius injured his wrist Saturday while trying to dive for a ground ball in the second inning.
Mar 28, 2015, 3:40 PM EDT
Doubront really struggled during Cactus League action, allowing nine runs on 17 hits (including two home runs) in seven innings across four appearances.
Mar 28, 2015, 2:51 PM EDT
Freeman owns a 3.33 ERA with a 61/34 K/BB ratio over 70 1/3 innings in the majors.
Mar 28, 2015, 2:15 PM EDT
The Orioles will already be without Matt Wieters on Opening Day as he makes his way back from Tommy John surgery and now suddenly J.J. Hardy’s status is also in question.
Mar 28, 2015, 1:32 PM EDT
Lindstrom, who was in camp this spring on a minor league contract, posted an ugly 11.12 ERA and 5/4 K/BB ratio over 5 2/3 innings during Cactus League action.
Mar 28, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT
Thorpe, 19, owns a 2.80 ERA and 179/54 K/BB ratio over his first 157 2/3 innings in pro ball.
Mar 28, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
Yordano Ventura was recently named as the Royals’ Opening Day starter and he had a heck of a tuneup in his latest Cactus League outing last night.
Mar 28, 2015, 11:01 AM EDT
Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon said last month that he would be interested in a trade to the Blue Jays and it appears that the possibility might still have some legs.
Mar 28, 2015, 10:11 AM EDT
Pelfrey owns an ugly 5.56 ERA in 34 starts dating back to 2013.
Mar 28, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
An MRI showed “something” in Christian Vazquez’s right elbow.
Mar 28, 2015, 8:57 AM EDT
This isn’t what you want to hear with the start of the season just one week away.
- Mariners prospect Victor Sanchez has died 7
- 2015 Preview: Chicago White Sox 15
- Did David Ortiz admit to more than he realized with his Players’ Tribune editorial? 81
- 2015 Preview: Atlanta Braves 15
- David Ortiz: “Nobody in MLB history has been tested for PEDs more than me” 115
- 2015 Preview: Chicago Cubs 14
- Unsigned 2014 No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken undergoes Tommy John surgery 61
- 2015 Preview: Seattle Mariners 15
- Ex-Cardinals outfielder Curt Ford was assaulted in St. Louis and told to “go back to Ferguson” (116)
- College baseball player cut after making offensive tweet about Mo’ne Davis (115)
- David Ortiz: “Nobody in MLB history has been tested for PEDs more than me” (115)
- Rob Manfred says it would be hard to reinstate Pete Rose in a limited way (89)
- Mo’ne Davis says college ballplayer who wrote an offensive tweet about her deserves a second chance (88)