Successfully suing a Major League Baseball team for injuries suffered by a foul ball or a rogue bat is known to be extremely difficult. In fact, that difficulty is part of the reason some lawyers refer to the assumption of risk doctrine as the “baseball doctrine.”
The hope is that could soon change, as a number of lawsuits are pending, and Major League Baseball recently issued recommendations to all 30 league clubs that encourages expansion of the number of seats covered by protective netting. It also encourages clubs to give better warnings to fans about the dangers of sitting close to the field.
“Assumption of risk” is a type of defense in tort actions in which a plaintiff’s right to recover is barred or reduced by the degree to which a negligent defendant can show plaintiff knowingly and voluntarily assumed the risks at issue that were inherent to the activity in which plaintiff was participating. So in baseball, the idea is that fans have a responsibility to keep their eye on the action unfolding in the field and to take defensive action if a ball or debris comes flying their way.
But there are many personal injury lawyers who are arguing this rule should no longer be applicable to baseball, no matter what the fine print on the back of the ticket says. Quoted recently in The New York Times, one attorney behind a class action lawsuit against the MLB pointed out:
- The players are bigger and stronger than ever;
- The seats in newer stadiums are often much closer to the foul line than they used to be;
- There are numerous and ever-expanding distractions that are designed to keep fans engaged in action that isn’t necessarily happening on the field;
- Fans who are paying attention don’t have enough time to react if a foul ball is coming their way.
When fans can’t protect themselves against a certain danger, he argued, they can’t assume that risk.
The Times highlighted a case of a fan who attended a Yankees game on a rainy day back in August 2011. Despite the fact that some ballparks have banned umbrellas, this one had no policy on the matter at the time of that game. The fan was there with his 13-year-old son and two of his son’s friends. There had been an-hour-and-a-half rain delay, but the group had good seats and the teens didn’t want to leave. Surrounded by open umbrellas, the fan was unable to see when a hard-hit foul ball came flying at his face. The impact destroyed the bones around his eye, fractured his jaw and sinus and left him with extensive bruising and head trauma. Were it not for the titanium glasses on his face, he believe the blow could easily have killed him. But he did survive, though he’s suffered permanent injuries.
After reading more about policies by other stadiums on umbrellas, he requested a meeting with the team president. He asked the team change its policy regarding umbrellas to ban them for the safety of fans. He also asked for reimbursement of the $25,000 in medical bills he had to pay out-of-pocket. Initially, the team president agreed to these terms, but later backpedaled, leaving the fan with no choice but to file a personal injury lawsuit.
His attorney stated that while he normally would turn down such a case, no matter how serious the injuries, due to the effectiveness of the assumption of risk doctrine defense, the presence of the obstructive umbrellas in this case gives the claim a fighting chance.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Danger at the Ballpark, and in a Baseball Ticket’s Fine Print, Nov. 20, 2015, By Joe Nocera, The New York Times
More Blog Entries:
Mansfield v. Real Estate Plus Inc. – Landlord Duty to Tenant in Stair Rail Collapse, Dec. 9, 2015, Charlotte Injury Lawyer Blog