Jun 10, 2014, 10:59 AM EST
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.
Dec 22, 2014, 10:47 AM EST
“You see what’s going on, but …”
Dec 22, 2014, 10:34 AM EST
Who will tell us that they’re “takin’ it one game at a time” now?!
Dec 22, 2014, 10:15 AM EST
Dec 22, 2014, 9:04 AM EST
He’ll be under team control through 2019.
Dec 22, 2014, 8:41 AM EST
Taped baseballs and Yankees fans.
Dec 22, 2014, 7:49 AM EST
Understated, it is not.
Dec 21, 2014, 11:10 PM EST
Wil Myers was rumored to be a potential target for the Phillies in a trade involving Cole Hamels, but it turns out the Padres plan to hang on to him.
Dec 21, 2014, 10:21 PM EST
Wil Ledezma will attempt to return to the major leagues with the Twins after signing a minor league deal.
Dec 21, 2014, 9:55 PM EST
Marco Scutaro’s 2014 season was tarnished by a chronic back ailment. The Giants’ training staff is preparing an update on the 39-year-old and it may not be good news.
Dec 21, 2014, 8:50 PM EST
If spring training were to start today, Yankees GM Brian Cashman would have Rob Refsnyder and Jose Pirela compete for the starting job at second base.
In which someone describes A-Rod, B.J. Upton and Ryan Howard as potential offensive options for a team
Dec 21, 2014, 7:45 PM EST
This needs to happen, people.
George Steinbrenner’s foundation will pay for the education of the children of the slain NYPD officer
Dec 21, 2014, 6:50 PM EST
The Silver Shield Foundation has done so for 32 years.
Dec 21, 2014, 5:47 PM EST
It makes a lot of sense. And now, it seems, the clubs themselves are starting to talk about it.
Dec 21, 2014, 4:17 PM EST
Is Smoltz really so different than Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina?
Dec 21, 2014, 2:50 PM EST
The field for James Shields has been winnowed down to a few, namely the Giants and Red Sox.
Dec 21, 2014, 1:35 PM EST
If the Padres want to keep Justin Upton around beyond 2015, they’ll have to hammer out a contract extension before spring training begins.
Dec 21, 2014, 12:27 PM EST
Scott Boras says the Orioles should expect to have Matt Wieters behind the plate when the 2015 regular season opens on April 6.
Dec 21, 2014, 10:55 AM EST
A.J. Preller, the second-youngest general manager in Major League Baseball, joined MLB Network this weekend to discuss the Padres’ incredibly active offseason …
Dec 21, 2014, 9:11 AM EST
Matt Kemp was introduced to the San Diego media on Saturday at Petco Park …
Dec 20, 2014, 11:50 PM EST
Exciting news for Willie Bloomquist fans.
- Phil Hughes signs a three-year extension with the Twins 12
- The Padres have talked to the Phillies about Cole Hamels 21
- Why is John Smoltz a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame? 57
- Phillies GM told Ryan Howard they’d be better off “not with him but without him” 85
- Trea Turner’s agent is unhappy his client is in limbo after trade to Nationals 48
- Nexen Heroes accept Jung-Ho Kang posting fee from unidentified MLB team 37
- Giants acquire Casey McGehee from the Marlins 16
- The Padres have given their fans something to talk about. Which is badly needed in San Diego. 64
- Bud Selig will get a $6 million a year pension. Which is obscene. (145)
- The United States will seek to normalize relations with Cuba (144)
- Rays, Padres, Nationals agree to 11-player trade (97)
- Chase Headley signs a four-year deal with the Yankees worth at least $52 million. (95)
- St. Petersburg City Council votes down deal to allow Rays to look for new stadium site (90)