Paul L. Schneiderman
Heads Up! Can a Fan Recover Damages if Hit by a Ball at a Baseball Game?
One activity that goes on in the summer is baseball, America's pastime. Big league games, minor league games, summer little league games–there are all types of leagues where you can watch baseball and softball games. While baseball for many connotes fun and good times, there are some risks that can occur at a baseball game. One risk, although the odds are quite low, is the possibility of getting hit by a baseball. And yes, it can hurt!
Assumption of risk is the main doctrine that can protect a baseball operator or league from liability when a fan is injured by a ball at a baseball game. The legal theory is that the fan assumed an express or implied assumption of risk of getting hit by a ball while attending a baseball game. There are cases that address this assumption of risk doctrine in courts around the United States.*
In one Washington state case, Taylor vs. The Baseball Club of Seattle, Washington Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District, Jose Mesa and Mirla Mesa, Freddy Garcia, 132 Wash. App. 32 Division One, 130 P.3d 83 (2006), the court applied the implied primary assumption of risk doctrine in barring the spectator's legal action after she was injured during the Mariners pre-game warm up by a ball errantly thrown into the stands.
(Certainly not to make light of the situation in the above Taylor case, but as a Mariners fan on a side note, I can't say that I was shocked that former Mariners pitcher Jose Mesa would errantly throw a ball into the stands–that guy could sure be a pretty wild pitcher!)
Some states, such as Washington state, have adopted the Limited Duty Rule to define the duty a baseball stadium operator owes to its patrons injured from foul balls or during a game. The rule imposes two requirements on baseball stadium operators. First, baseball stadium operators must provide a sufficient number of protected seats for those spectators “who may be reasonably anticipated to desire protected seats on an ordinary occasion.” Second, baseball stadium operators must “provide protection for all spectators located in the most dangerous parts of the stadium, that is, those areas that pose an unduly high risk of injury from foul balls (such as directly behind home plate).” Reed Jennings vs. Baseball Club of Seattle, L.P., 188 Wash. App. 320, 328, 351 P.2d 887 (2015).
When a baseball operator takes steps to provide common sense screening behind home plate and safety measures in other areas, they will likely not be negligent in most hypothetical situations when a fan is hit by a baseball. Most of the time, when a fan gets hit by a ball at an organized baseball game, the fan is generally out of luck in terms of receiving a monetary recovery. However, there are some situations that involve intentional harm or unforeseeable injury where one hit by a ball at a baseball game may have an actionable personal injury case.
If you're really worried about getting hit by a ball while at a baseball game, you can bring a baseball glove, wear a helmet or choose seats located behind a screen or other protected areas. That way you can reduce your risks of being in the path of a ball going into the stands. So enjoy the game, and play ball!
* Please note that this is an informational blog. I accept no professional responsibility for this blog, and it is not intended to be a treatise on this subject. A person with an injury should consult before the applicable statute of limitation with an attorney about their prospective remedies.