In another tragic story similar to the NASCAR post yesterday, an Idaho man who was struck by a foul ball and lost his eye, will be allowed to seek damages from the Boise Hawks, a minor league team in the Chicago Cubs farm system.
The Idaho Supreme Court decided not to apply the “Baseball Rule” in this case allowing the case to proceed. The “Baseball Rule” generally absolves stadium owners of liability for these types of injuries as long as they take reasonable precautions in protecting spectators; in other areas of the stadium, fans assume the risks of attending the game, which include being struck by a foul ball.
The issue that will be argued should this case go to trial is whether the team provided adequate protection for fans. A number of questions will arise in determining whether the team and stadium owner are held liable: Should the team have provided netting or screens for fans that are not in areas of the stadium where they are watching the game (i.e. concession stands)? Was that netting installed properly, strong enough and high enough? Did the team provide adequate warnings to fans in certain areas of the park where foul balls or fly balls might be common? As you can see, the Court’s decision not to apply the “Baseball Rule” opens the team and stadium up to a lot of criticism and possible financial liability.
Another question that may arise similar to the question in the NASCAR case, is the issue of the disclaimer on the back of the ticket and whether it absolves the team and owner of the stadium of liability. Courts have gone both ways on this issue. It can be said that the disclaimer on the back is a contract: When you purchase a ticket, you agree to the terms including those on the back. However, many courts may rule that if the ticket-holder was not made aware of the disclaimer on the back, it is not a valid contract. Is it fair that after you agree to a contract, additional terms that you were unaware of are used against you? Not so much.
To protect themselves from suits such as this, teams can provide the disclaimer on the back but also must be able to show they provide reasonable protection and warning for fans in dangerous areas of the ballparks. In addition, providing on-site emergency medical services and warning fans through PA announcements can reduce the possibility of a successful lawsuit against them
Although in this case, the Court decided the “Baseball Rule” does not apply so the Idaho fan is able to sue, it is recognized by many jurisdictions and therefore it may be difficult to sue a team if you’re injured. Regardless of where you live or attend a game, if you are at a sporting event where there’s a risk of flying objects at high speeds, keep your head up!