Watching, or playing sports, is inherently dangerous. Millions of Americans attend sporting events each year, from kids baseball games to professional sports events. There is always a risk that as a spectator you will be injured or even killed. Whether it be by a foul ball or broken bat at a baseball game, being hit by an errant puck at a hockey game, or being knocked down by a basketball player trying to keep the ball in play.
Statistics about injuries at sporting events are hard to come by, it is not something that sports teams or venues like to advertise. Some studies have indicated that spectators are most likely to be injured at baseball games, hockey games, auto racing events and golf events. Sports teams and venue owners have responded to spectator injuries in a variety ways including putting a disclaimer and an assumption of risk statement on the back, or bottom, of the ticket advising fans that they are attending at their own risk, and increasing safety measures at venues.
After the death of a 13 year-old hockey fan in 2002, who was hit by a puck, the National Hockey League (NHL) increased it’s protective measures by requiring that netting be installed above the safety glass behind each goal. The NHL also requires that safety glass be installed 8 feet above the boards at the ends of the rink and at a minimum of 5 feet along the sides.
One recent report showed that over 800 fans were injured at Major League Baseball (MLB) games between 2012 and 2019. The number is likely significantly higher as not all injuries are reported or recorded. Some fans have died after being injured at MLB games, including a 79 year-old grandmother who died after being hit in the head by a foul ball while celebrating her birthday at Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles. While the majority, if not all MLB stadiums, have netting behind home plate, MLB has now recommended (unlike the NHL, MLB has no official rules) that all stadiums extend the netting well past the end of the dugout. Seven or eight teams have stated that they will expand their netting as far down as the foul polls.
If you are injured at a baseball game, can you bring a personal injury claim against the stadium? What about if a loved one is killed at a game, can you bring a wrongful death claim?
While you might have a claim, courts have routinely been reluctant to find liability on the part of the venue, particularly baseball stadiums, finding that there are certain risks inherent in attending sporting events. Getting hit by a baseball or a bat at a baseball game is considered to be an inherent risk.
Baseball teams and stadium owners have largely managed to avoid liability because of the “Baseball Rule.” The Baseball Rule applies to not just MLB but also to minor league teams. There will be times however when the Baseball Rule does not apply so it is important that you talk to a Charlotte, North Carolina attorney if you were injured at a baseball game.
What is the Baseball Rule?
It goes without saying that choosing to attend a baseball game, where a ball is being thrown at high speeds and hit with a bat, has risks. By attending a game, fans are choosing to accept some risks. That does not mean there are no rules for stadium owners.
Baseball stadiums have a reasonable duty of care to their fans. Under the Baseball Rule, stadiums satisfy this duty by providing fans with at least some seats that are protected. Generally, this means that there must be netting over the seats that are located behind home plate. Fans who choose not to sit behind home plate are assuming the risk of being hit by a ball or a bat.
While the baseball rule has been around for almost 100 years, it is state-specific. Therefore each state can determine what number of seats need to be protected. While not all states follow the baseball rule the majority, including North Carolina, do. Therefore, unless the stadium does not have adequate protective netting behind home plate, the chances of succeeding in a personal injury or wrongful death claim are likely slim.
North Carolina Case Law
A recent North Carolina Appellate Court case is just one example of a North Carolina court upholding the baseball rule. In Mills v. Durham Bulls Baseball Club, Inc., eleven year-old Angelina DeBlasio was injured while attending a Durham Bulls game. She was sitting on a picnic bench located in an open-air section of the stadium, behind the left-field foul line. There are three signs in that area warning fans to “PLEASE BE AWARE OF OBJECTS LEAVING THE PLAYING FIELD.” Announcements are also routinely made telling fans to be alert for foul balls. Angelina was injured when a foul ball flew over the left-field wall and hit her in the face. She was rushed to the hospital with dislocated teeth and broken bones, and had to undergo both orthodontic and endodontic surgeries.
Her parents sued the stadium arguing that 1) Angelina did not know enough about the game to understand the risks; 2) she did not have the choice of where to sit - the picnic area v. the screened in area behind home plate; 3) she was there for a picnic, not to watch the game; 4) the picnic area was designed negligently and that design caused her injures; and 5) the Baseball Rule is outdated. Id.
In December 2020, Chief Judge Linda McGee dismissed Angelina’s case, finding among other things, that the Baseball Rule did apply and that “[a]nyone familiar with the game of baseball knows that balls are frequently fouled into the stands and bleachers. Such are common incidents of the game which necessarily involve dangers to spectators.”
Our Charlotte, North Carolina Based Attorneys Can Help
So many things need to be evaluated before deciding to bring a personal injury or wrongful death claim. It is important that you understand your rights as soon as possible to avoid any possible missteps. The lawyers at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC are experienced personal injury and wrongful death attorneys and can guide you through this difficult time. Please contact our office at 704-714-1450. There is no fee for an initial consultation.