Should Fans Have Legal Rights During Games?

Beware of Foul BallsBy LOU PAVLOVICH, JR.
Editor/Collegiate Baseball
© 2013 Collegiate Baseball

TUCSON, Ariz. — When a baseball fan is hit by a line drive, and a serious injury takes place, should he be allowed to sue?

Or does the disclaimer on the back of the ticket saying the holder assumes all risks associated with ball-related injuries absolve those who operate a stadium and team of future lawsuits?

The question has come into focus after Bud Rountree was hit by a line drive in the eye at a Boise (Idaho) Hawks baseball game in August of 2008.

The severe damage caused by the impact resulted in Rountree losing his eye.

His attorney filed a lawsuit against the stadium owners and the team in 2010 for negligence in state court. Several weeks ago, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that the lawsuit could move forward.

It was a rare setback for stadium owners and teams concerning this issue.

For decades, the “Baseball Rule” of liability has been adopted for such situations as lawsuits have been turned away from courts because of the disclaimer on the back of tickets with those attending games knowing the potential danger of foul balls, thrown balls and bats flying into stands.

The back of Rountree’s ticket said: “The holder assumes all risk and dangers incidental to the game of baseball including specifically (but not exclusively) the danger of being injured by thrown or batted balls.”

It didn’t matter in this case.

This ruling has reverberated throughout all of baseball.

If a jury rules in favor of Rountree’s lawsuit, all of baseball will be impacted, including college and high school games.

You might see more protective netting being put up or even have fans sign their tickets to show they know what the disclaimer on the back of their ticket says as they hand them to stadium personnel entering parks.

Another case took place in New Mexico when the parents of a 4-year-old child launched a lawsuit against the city of Albuquerque and the Albuquerque Isotopes minor league team after their son was hit in the head by a long fly ball during pre-game batting practice.

The family was eating in the picnic area located just beyond the left field wall. Different courts in New Mexico have gone back and forth over whether the family should be given compensation for the head injury.

It should be noted that the Baseball Rule siding with teams and stadium owners has been adopted by courts in Massachusetts, New York, Michigan and other states which go against the recent Idaho Supreme Court ruling.

How Many Fans Are Hit?
While Collegiate Baseball knows of no source that tracks fan injuries from foul balls by Major League Baseball or the NCAA, Bob Gorman has done unscientific research for his blog Death At The Ballpark.

He kept a count of foul balls entering stands for 20 games during the 2010 season which amounted to 166 innings. He counted 405 fouls that went into the stands which was an average of 2.44 per inning.

The greatest number of fouls per inning was 5.4 over a 5-inning stretch. The lowest figure was eight during 8 ½ innings (.09 per inning).

He pointed out that the Detroit Free Press did a similar project for one game. During a Tigers’ contest at Comerica Park, they had a crew of 22 people spread throughout the park tracking balls that entered the stands (including fouls, homers, and balls tossed to fans from the field). Of the 46 fouls that game, 32 met the paper’s criteria of entering the stands.

Of these 32, 23 were from batted fouls. The average for this 8 ½ inning game was similar to what Gorman found in his research: 2.7 fouls per inning.

Of the thousands of professional, college and high school baseball games that are played each year, you can multiply that number by the number of innings played and then multiply that figure by 2.4 to get a realistic idea of how many balls are hit into stands each year.

And that figure is obviously in the thousands.

For More On This Story: Read more about injuries at the College World Series and other ballparks and who is liable. See the March 22, 2013 edition of Collegiate Baseball. Single copies can be purchased for $3 each. See Subscriptions for ordering information.