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Aug 02

`Baseball Rule’ Puts Ballparks Before Consumer Safety

Written on behalf of Brian S. Kabateck

August 2, 2019

Whether fans in the stands know it or not, when watching their favorite Baseball team play, they are doing so at their own risk. With baseball season in full swing, players and fans across the nation are heading to a stadium every day of the week to take on the experience of America’s favorite pastime. But for one supporter—Linda Goldbloom—that time has come to an end. The 79-year-old was killed while attending a game at Dodger Stadium late last season. A foul ball rocketed into the stands right behind home plate and straight into Linda’s head, resulting in her hospitalization and death four days later from the blunt force trauma.

We’ve seen several foul ball injuries, involving children this season, which has fueled the on-going debate about extending the protective netting at baseball stadiums.

Fans injured by foul balls have little legal recourse in most jurisdictions across the country. That’s because of a 1913 case, Crane v. Kansas City Baseball & Exhibition Co. The case decided what has become known as the “baseball rule.” Courts have used some variation of this case over the past century to hold that spectators at baseball games assume the risk of being injured by foul balls or other debris flying into the stands from the field of play. Every major league ticket includes a warning that the entrant assumes the risk of being injured. It’s time to overrule this outdated precedent.

The game of baseball has changed over the past 100 years. Pitchers are throwing harder and faster. Players are bigger, stronger, and in tip-top physical shape. Redesigned, new stadiums are “kiss cams,” dance-offs, mascots, and merchandise shooting out of cannons. Anyone of these distractions can avert a spectator’s attention to an incoming foul ball or baseball bat splintering into the stands. The consequences can be tragic, even fatal.

A recent Bloomberg analysis pegs that number at 1,750. Many of those injured are left with grievous injuries such as the toddler sitting on her father’s lap at Yankee Stadium in September 2017. A foul ball shot into the stands just past the visiting dugout at over 105 miles per hour and hit the young child in the face, resulting in multiple skull fractures and horrific injuries. Thankfully the child survived. Video of the incident is available on YouTube of the gruesome and bloody footage of her injured face. Yankee players can be seen reacting emotionally to the ordeal.

Some argue that overturning the baseball rule will open the floodgates of frivolous lawsuits. We’ve been down this road before, anyone who has ever brought or defended a negligence lawsuit knows that liability must still be proven. A fan injured by a foul ball does not necessarily mean the stadium owner was negligent. But these cases are usually dead on arrival because of the baseball rule. It stands now that injured parties are not even allowed their day in court because of a century-old precedent that is no longer relevant or persuasive to the modern baseball experience.

In 2018, all major league teams agreed to extend the netting to the third-base dugout — ostensibly in response to the young toddler injured at Yankee Stadium. Major League Baseball (MLB) recommended this precaution be taken, the court’s concern in Neinstein that players would no longer be able to catch foul balls in those areas because of the interference of protective netting did not seem to hinder the recommendation.

The court’s concern that implementing safety measures would result in affordable ticket prices is also unconvincing. Ticket prices are continually increasing, regardless of fan’s ability to bring suit against stadium owners for foul ball injuries. Major league teams are playing in a state-of-the-art stadium, with revenues in the hundreds of millions, if not billions, every year. There is nothing improper with asking those that reap the rewards of team and stadium ownership to allocate some of their resources for insurance coverage for foul ball injuries.

Like successful capitalists, stadiums and ball clubs are raising their prices anyways. Teams could write off fan injury insurance premiums as the cost of doing business as all others do.

The MLB could take a few tips from the Japanese clubs that seem to take spectator safety more seriously than we do here in the United States. They have protective netting covering more of the stadium. Ushers are equipped with whistles and flashlights, warning fans in a particular location of an incoming foul ball. Fans who wish to sit in an unprotected area are provided with batting helmets and gloves to further protect them from and errant foul shots. The protective netting is not stopping the multitudes of fans from coming out to Japanese ballparks.

Every MLB team has faced a foul ball injury lawsuit at least once. Courts have been reluctant to overrule the baseball rule out of fear of harming “America’s pastime.” For example, the Court of Appeal declined to overrule the baseball rule in a 1986 case styled Neinstein v. Los Angeles Dodgers, 185 Cal. App. 3d 176.

The court reasoned: “to permit plaintiff to recover under the circumstances here would force baseball stadium owners to do one of two things: place all spectator areas behind a protective screen thereby reducing the quality of everyone’s views, and since players are often able to reach into the spectators areas to catch foul balls, changing the very nature of the game itself; or continue the status quo and increase the price of tickets to cover the cost of compensated injured persons with the attendant result that persons of meager means might be priced out of enjoying the great American pastime. To us, neither alternative is acceptable.”

The things that remain in question are numerous cases of fans being injured by foul balls every season and whether or not something should be done. It’s time to bring an end to the baseball rule so stadium owners can prevent foreseeable injuries and protect fans like Linda Goldbloom from any further incidents.

If you or a loved one has experienced a catastrophic injury you must learn more about your legal rights to receive benefits which you are entitled to if your injury is due to a negligent party. Give one of our experienced personal injury attorneys at Kabateck LLP a call today to learn more about recovering damages and to explore your options.

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