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.
May 24, 2015, 7:10 PM EDT
Pirates starters Gerrit Cole, A.J. Burnett, and Francisco Liriano combined for 32 strikeouts in a three-game sweep of the Mets over the weekend.
May 24, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT
The Rangers added bullpen depth on Sunday, signing reliever Jared Burton to a minor league contract.
May 24, 2015, 5:18 PM EDT
Gonzales pitched well in his latest outing for Memphis, striking out seven and allowing only one run over six innings, and he was almost certain to be the next man up for the St. Louis rotation.
May 24, 2015, 4:04 PM EDT
Varvaro is now on the disabled list with the Red Sox and won’t pitch again this season. The 30-year-old had an impressive 2.63 ERA, 1.079 WHIP, and 50/13 K/BB ratio in 54 2/3 innings last summer with the Braves.
May 24, 2015, 3:17 PM EDT
The game before the game.
May 24, 2015, 2:31 PM EDT
San Francisco acquired Casey McGehee from the Marlins in December to effectively replace Pablo Sandoval at third base, but the 32-year-old woke up Sunday with a brutal .200/.254/.282 batting line and he had tallied just nine RBI in 35 games.
May 24, 2015, 2:08 PM EDT
Steven Souza appeared to have a clear path to the plate — at least the outside of the plate — yet went right for Stephen Vogt with his elbow raised.
May 24, 2015, 1:25 PM EDT
Kyle Lobstein made the Tigers’ starting rotation out of spring training with Justin Verlander (triceps) ticketed for the disabled list. But that spot will now go to right-hander Buck Farmer because Lobstein needs a disabled list stint of his own.
May 24, 2015, 12:32 PM EDT
Victorino has appeared in just 50 of a possible 205 games over the last two seasons due to a variety of leg and back problems.
May 24, 2015, 11:45 AM EDT
Really cool feature here from MLB Network on Mitch Harris’ unique path from the United States Naval Academy to a bullpen job with the NL Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals …
May 24, 2015, 10:59 AM EDT
Gomes, 27, batted .278/.313/.472 with 21 home runs and 74 RBI in 135 games last season for the Tribe, earning his first Silver Slugger Award. Cleveland (17-23) could use a big offensive boost right about now.
May 24, 2015, 10:04 AM EDT
Miami defeated Baltimore to snap an eight-game losing streak late Saturday night on a Martin Prado walkoff RBI single in the bottom of the 13th inning.
May 24, 2015, 9:21 AM EDT
Rizzo also hit a three-run double in the fifth, finishing the game with a career-high-tying six RBI.
May 24, 2015, 8:37 AM EDT
Your box scores and recaps from Saturday …
May 23, 2015, 11:25 PM EDT
Joey Votto made an unorthodox throw to help turn a double play against the Indians on Saturday.
May 23, 2015, 10:47 PM EDT
Brian Matusz is the second lefty reliever to be ejected for having a foreign substance on his arm.
May 23, 2015, 10:40 PM EDT
The Marlins were considering upgrading their bullpen with Jonathan Papelbon.
May 23, 2015, 9:58 PM EDT
Josh Hamilton will be added to the Rangers’ roster on Monday.
May 23, 2015, 9:25 PM EDT
Paul Konerko was honored before Saturday’s Twins/White Sox game as his number 14 was retired.
May 23, 2015, 8:35 PM EDT
Yasmani Grandal was hit by a backswing on Friday and will spend at least a week on the bench to recuperate.
- Giants designate Casey McGehee for assignment 15
- Yan Gomes returns to the Indians’ lineup after missing six weeks with a sprained right knee 0
- Marlins jump in Clevelander pool after snapping losing streak 19
- Settling the Score: Saturday’s results 17
- Brian Matusz was ejected for having a foreign substance on his arm 37
- Josh Hamilton will join the Rangers on Monday 6
- UPDATE: David Wright diagnosed with spinal stenosis 23
- Settling the Score: Friday’s results 39
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights (133)
- Bryce Harper on Marvin Hudson ejection: “I don’t think 40,000 people came to watch him ump” (132)
- Bryce Harper ejected for second time in a week (122)
- GM Dan Jennings to be named the Marlins new manager. And it’s a terrible idea. (111)
- And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights (101)