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 28, 2015, 9:32 PM EDT
Martinez was inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday.
Jul 28, 2015, 8:40 PM EDT
Hamels would join Dallas Keuchel and Scott Kazmir in an excellent, postseason-ready Astros rotation.
Jul 28, 2015, 7:47 PM EDT
Angels center fielder Mike Trout went 4-for-4 with two homers and five RBI in Sunday’s series finale against the Rangers, but he also suffered a left wrist injury in that game when he tried to make a diving catch …
Jul 28, 2015, 6:54 PM EDT
In a span of about 10 minutes the Angels landed two outfielders …
Jul 28, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
This time it’s for both Stanozolol and Boldenone.
Jul 28, 2015, 6:16 PM EDT
Papelbon owns a sparkling 1.59 ERA and 40/8 K/BB ratio in 39 2/3 innings this season for the Phillies, and he’s 17-for-17 in save opportunities.
Jul 28, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
Voters who are more than 10 years removed from covering the game will no longer get to vote in Hall of Fame elections
Jul 28, 2015, 4:17 PM EDT
Hamels threw a no-hitter against Cubs on Saturday.
Jul 28, 2015, 4:09 PM EDT
The Nats may soon have two solid closers.
Jul 28, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
And he thinks Carlos Gonzalez is the next one out the door. He’s probably right.
Jul 28, 2015, 3:45 PM EDT
Designated for assignment by the Giants last week.
Jul 28, 2015, 3:29 PM EDT
Why, I have no idea.
Jul 28, 2015, 2:40 PM EDT
General manager Dayton Moore is not messing around.
Jul 28, 2015, 1:01 PM EDT
Washington or elsewhere?
Jul 28, 2015, 11:50 AM EDT
Coors Field is powerful, but Tulowitzki is great anywhere.
Jul 28, 2015, 11:33 AM EDT
He would be a nice addition to the Nats’ pen, but a costly one given his $13 million vesting option.
Jul 28, 2015, 11:19 AM EDT
Swanson was scheduled to join a minor-league team later this week after signing for $6.5 million.
Jul 28, 2015, 11:08 AM EDT
He had a right to be angry, but maybe he overdid it a bit?
Jul 28, 2015, 10:47 AM EDT
Washington is getting healthier, but still not quite healthy.
Jul 28, 2015, 10:37 AM EDT
Great Moments in Rounding Error?
- Astros “making a strong effort” for Phillies ace Cole Hamels 12
- Angels acquire outfielders David Murphy and David DeJesus 22
- Jenrry Mejia gets 162-game ban for second failed PED test 24
- Nationals, Phillies agree to Jonathan Papelbon trade 54
- The Hall of Fame just made a MAJOR change to the Hall of Fame voting process 66
- Royals make another big move, get Ben Zobrist from A’s 85
- And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights 49
- The Troy Tulowitzki trade might be the strangest deadline deal ever 40
- The MLBPA is considering withholding cooperation with ESPN, Fox over Colin Cowherd’s comments (157)
- The Cubs are in discussions with the Phillies on Cole Hamels (146)
- Colin Cowherd wonders how baseball can be considered “complicated” if Dominicans can understand it (129)
- Major League Baseball rips Colin Cowherd in an official statement (123)
- Settling the Scores: Wednesday’s results (106)