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Law Review: Fan hit in face by foul ball results in lawsuit

 

“To a willing person, injury is not done.” The United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Benjamin Cardoza first adopted what has become known as the “Baseball Rule.” This longstanding rule essentially states that spectators at baseball games assume the risk of injury from foul balls or flying bats.

THE ‘BASEBALL RULE’

Under the “Baseball Rule,” for over a century, courts throughout the United States have consistently held that professional baseball teams and stadium owners are not liable for injuries sustained by fans hit by bats or balls, so long as the teams and owners have taken minimal precautions to protect their spectators from harm. Historically, minimal netting behind the batter’s box has been the standard, sometimes with additional netting down the first and third base lines. And with that spectators assume the risks of foul balls and splintered bats.

EXPANDED NETTING AT MAJOR LEAGUE STADIUMS

In 2019, the baseball commissioner announced that all 30 major league teams would expand the protective netting in their stadiums substantially beyond the end of the dugout and all the stadiums have done so. Additionally, a handful of stadiums have run netting all the way to the foul poles. As a lawyer who has cringed at zinging line drives into the stands, I wholeheartedly support these enhanced protective measures.



MAYES V. LA SIERRA UNIVERSITY

It is against that backdrop that on April 22, 2018, Monica Mayes went to an intercollegiate baseball game between Marymount University and La Sierra University. Seeing no open seats behind the batter’s box, she set up her folding chair in the grassy area along the third-base line, behind the dugout, which extended eight feet above ground. As such the dugout blocked the view of foul balls. There was no protective netting above the dugout.

Unfortunately, Monica was struck in the face by a foul ball and suffered serious injuries including brain damage. She sued. The trial court ruled her claim “a textbook primary assumption of the risk case.” Meaning Monica had assumed the risk of foul balls when she went to the game. Basically, operators and participants at a sports game or a sports-type activity owe other participants only a duty “not to act so as to increase the risk of injury over the risk inherent in the activity.”



However, sports venues have an additional duty to undertake reasonable measures to protect their spectators’ safety – if they can do so without altering the nature of the sport or activity.

RULING AGAINST LA SIERRA UNIVERSITY

The Fourth District Court of Appeal concluded that it was unclear whether La Sierra should have installed protective netting over and perhaps beyond the dugouts in order the minimize the risk of injuries to spectators. An expert testified that the cost would be less than $12,000. Such protective netting would not alter the way the game is played or unreasonably interfere with spectators’ views and enjoyment of the game.

Monica Mayes is allowed to take her case to a jury. I predict we will be seeing more netting in the future.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at porter@portersimon.com or http://www.portersimon.com


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