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The Baseball Rule: Why Fan’s Injured by Foul Balls Can’t Recover

Posted by James D. Campbell | Sep 21, 2017 | 0 Comments

We all love a sunny, leisurely day at the ball park.  A baseball game's slow pace allows us to catch up with friends or family, while enjoying guilty pleasures of a hot dog, nachos, or now, sushi. 

As a longtime fan and participant in baseball, I try to keep at least an eye out, however, for the screaming foul ball that can immediately ruin this ideal scene.  I cringe when I see a line drive dive into the third or first base boxes, and I hope that fans are ready to at least try to get a hand up. 

Unfortunately, many do not or cannot.  It's not easy to avoid a 105 mile an hour projectile.  I read a statistic that most games result in a significant injury to a fan as a result of a foul ball.  There have been 52 deaths from foul balls since 1887. 

One of the first cases I studded in law school was whether a baseball fan who was injured when a foul ball hit her in the head could recover against the owner of the stadium.  In that case, the court ruled, as do the vast majority of courts, that foul balls are an inherent danger of the game.  When a person goes to a baseball game, they assume the risk of this inherent danger.  If a fan wants to be safe from foul balls, they can buy a ticket in the zone protected by netting.  Also, courts hold that requiring a park to provide universal protective netting would obstruct views and change the nature of the game. In negligence law, this is the so called Baseball Rule. 

Recently, this protection for baseball parks has been strengthened by disclaimers written on the back of all baseball tickets. Here is the language from the back of a recent Diamondbacks ticket,"Holder acknowledges and assumes all risks and dangers arising from, incidental to or related to any way to attending, observing and/or participating in the Game (including but not limited to, the danger of batted balls or thrown/broken bats, balls, or other items and injuries caused, in whole or part, bu third parties arising therefrom)."  

Every time a fan is seriously injured by a foul ball, however, this rule comes into question.  For example, couple of days ago, a young girl at a Yankee's game was seriously injured when a line drive foul ball struck her in the face.  Would it really change the game to extend the protective netting that exists in every park down the foul lines?  Does a fan really accept the risk of being hit by a 105 MPH line drive when they are sitting 150 feet away from home plate? 

For now, courts refuse to change the so called Baseball Rule. So, next time you go to a game, hopefully to cheer on the Diamondbacks, keep your head on a swivel, and make sure you keep at least one eye out for the ball.   

About the Author

James D. Campbell

Jim Campbell is an experienced medical malpractice trial lawyer. Jim learned the craft of medical malpractice litigation law representing physicians and hospitals throughout the State of Arizona. He successfully tried many lawsuits on behalf of physicians and hospitals, even when the odds were overwhelmingly against his client. Now, Jim uses his skill and experience representing patients. His defense experience gives him an advantage in anticipating the tactics that physicians and their lawyers will use. He is able to proactively engineer his client's case to successfully meet those strategies.


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