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Who is Liable if I am Hit by a Foul Ball at a Major League Baseball Game?

close up of baseball pitcher's hand with two baseballs
October 9, 2019
Legally Reviewed By Attorney Rand Spear, Esq.

Attending a professional baseball game can be an exciting event for many people. The setting provides intense energy, with many different things going on at a time. These events can include flashing scoreboards, screaming fans, vendors, and more. These happenings can make it almost impossible to pay attention to every moment of the game. Unfortunately, this can lead to distracted fans being unaware of a foul ball heading in their direction.

While baseballs are small, they can come off a player’s bat at more than 100 miles per hour. If it collides with a fan, this can cause serious injuries, including concussions or permanent vision loss. When injuries occur in major league ballparks, fans often want to hold someone liable for their suffering. Doing so can be complicated, which is why it is essential to contact an experienced attorney for assistance.

The Baseball Rule & Liability

When fans are injured at the expense of foul balls at a baseball game, they usually hope to receive compensation from the team. However, it can be complicated to pursue legal action against a major league team. This difficulty is because they are under the protection of what is known as the “Baseball Rule.” This doctrine from the early 1900s provides liability protection to teams. The back of every ticket issued reads: “the ticketholder assumes all risk, danger and injury incidental to the game of baseball.” As a result it can be difficult for attendees to sue a team over their injuries.

Sports Stadiums’ Duty of Care to Spectators

The owner of a sports stadium has to provide a duty of care to spectators. There are rules and regulations the stadium should follow to minimize the risk of unreasonable injury. Safe seating and proper netting are two examples of essential ways the owner should maximize the safety of fans.

Stadiums are often large complexes, so there are multiple ways in which the facility is responsible for keeping you safe. Indoor areas and potential hazards are other examples where the owner needs to take reasonable steps to ensure your safety.

Employees at the stadiums need proper training, including any security guards. There should be a planned course of action in the case of an active emergency. When the owner or facility breaches the duty of care, you could have a case.

Injuries from negligence are the most commonly won cases. Facility owners need to supply reasonable safety measures that protect everyone inside. Ignoring these standards puts fans’, players’ and employees’ lives and safety at risk. Injuries from inadequate behavior can result in a lawsuit.

Assumption of Risks at Sport Stadiums

As a result of the legal disclaimer written on your ticket, the stadium’s owner attempts to shift liability to you, at least to an extent. By attending the baseball game, you understand you are at risk of getting hit by a baseball due to the unpredictable nature of the game.

By choosing to stay in the stadium, you acknowledge that you understand the risks associated with your presence. This rule attempts to protect the team or facility owner from liability if you become injured.

However, there are exceptions to this rule. A fan hit by a foul ball knew the possibility of injury, so the sports stadium isn’t necessarily responsible. Anything classified as reasonably occurring at a baseball game is not the fault of the owner. You knew the risk, so any injury that results is simply something that happened.

Sometimes, something unexpected occurs, such as a player celebrating or growing angry and throwing a ball into the stands. If such an abnormal activity injures you, the stadium and players are no longer protected by the rule.

Other factors also determine where liability falls. MLB stadiums require specialized netting in areas where foul balls or other projectiles often land. Negligence in any form regarding this netting is an example of how the rule no longer applies to the owner, and you can rightfully sue.

Common Sport Spectator Injuries and Statistics

Getting hit by a baseball often results in minor injuries, though there are some severe cases. Between 2012 and 2019 alone, balls hit at least 800 people at MLB stadiums. These are significant numbers that indicate further safety measures may be necessary. Even though numerous people have been harmed by foul balls, there are not currently many specific statistics about these instances.

Players aren’t intentionally aiming for fans, meaning that most people in the stadiums are not expecting a ball to come flying at them. And with the speed at which most players hit the ball, many would be unable to react fast enough to stop one from hitting them anyway.

Several distractions and circumstances could play a role in how a fan responds to an incoming foul ball. Concession vendors, conversations and cellphones could all play a role in a fan’s reaction. When you meld these factors together, it creates a recipe for injury. Unsuspecting fans of all ages can have a serious injury as a result of a foul ball.

Some of the most common injuries from foul balls and hits by baseballs include:

  • Bruises
  • Scars
  • Concussions
  • Broken bones
  • Vision problems
  • Face injuries
  • Brain injuries

Proving Negligence For Injuries At MLB Stadiums

Care of duty requirements should reasonably minimize the risks of being in a stadium. Safety measures like netting are an example, though they protect only some fans. That is why the MLB recommended expanding the netting to shield seats 70 feet down both foul lines from home plate.

It can be difficult to present a liability case with these protective measures and the Baseball Rule in place. However, stadiums can be held liable for negligence if they fail to minimize the potential risk for fans. To prove negligence, the injured party must show that the facility did not uphold the standard of care. Examples of negligent actions can include:

  • Not meeting federal netting requirements
  • Not making necessary repairs to holes or tears in safety nets
  • Failing to maintain the structure of the building or seats
  • Failing to offer sheltered seats in high-risk areas

Other Sports Stadium Injuries

Fans can get injured at sports stadiums by more than just a foul ball. Any game you attend inherently comes with risks, regardless of the sport. Hockey stadiums have plexiglass barriers, though a puck still might hit you. Baseball bats can splinter and go flying, too. Basketball players or balls can tumble into fans.

Besides being physically struck by players or equipment, other common stadium injuries include:

  • Slips and falls: Spilled or leaking liquids, improper floor cleaning and ice can lead to slippery floors that cause you to fall and become injured.
  • Seating arrangements: Broken chairs and other seating issues can cause various injuries.
  • Physical altercations: Violent fights that break out in the stands might lead to fractures, cuts or bruises.
  • Railing safety: Broken or nonexistent guide railings for staircases and seats could result in preventable falls.
  • Snow or ice: Improper removal of snow and ice from rooftops, overhangs and entryways could result in injury if it falls.
  • Elevator or escalator: Inadequate maintenance for elevators and escalators can result in serious injuries.
  • Electrical hazards: Faulty, improper and exposed wiring may cause burns or other harm.
  • Fire and safety issues: Dangerous fires or other safety hazards often lead to injury.

Contact Our Personal Injury Firm

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If you or a loved one has been in a personal injury accident in Pennsylvania, it’s important that you contact an experienced Philadelphia personal injury attorney. We will help you with your case and make sure that you are not taken advantage of. Contact Spear Greenfield to get the right attorney in your corner.

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