Baseball season is here!
Baseball is America’s national pastime, a game that millions enjoy this time of year. From hot dogs and Cracker Jacks at Legion Stadium to high school summer leagues and the MLB, Americans love baseball.
But what happens when a day at the ballpark turns catastrophic and a fan is injured by a foul ball or broken bat?
There have been scores of reports of injuries to baseball fans from such accidents, leading most MLB teams to extend protective netting in an attempt to further protect fans. But what happens when patrons are injured by baseballs or bats even with extended screening behind home plate? Is the ballpark operator responsible?
North Carolina follows the majority rule of limited liability for stadium operators, significantly limiting any liability an operator has for foul balls. Since its adoption in 1939 by our State Supreme Court, the “Baseball Rule” of limited liability for stadium operators has been applied without exception and provides that there is no liability for ballpark operators unless the area behind home plate is not adequately protected.
While fans enjoy sitting in non-screened seats for the opportunity to catch that pop-fly or foul ball, they do so at their own risk and potentially at their own peril. So long as the operator provides adequate screening behind home plate and otherwise fulfills its duty of reasonable care to patrons, it is well-settled that the operator’s duty to patrons from the risk of being struck by batted or thrown balls is fully discharged.
In other words, a baseball stadium operator is not liable to a spectator injured by a foul ball unless the area behind home plate is not adequately screened. Our Courts have repeatedly held that spectators with actual or constructive knowledge of the game assume the risk of being struck by a batted or thrown ball, an inherent risk of the game.
Further, a baseball stadium operator has no duty to provide screened seats for all patrons, or even all patrons who request them. Our Courts have held that a stadium operator fulfills its duty by providing adequate screening behind home plate even if an injured patron did not have the option to purchase a seat in the screened area.
If you have plans to take in baseball games this summer, sit behind the netting if you can, and always be aware of your surroundings!
This does not constitute legal advice. Please seek counsel from a legal professional to assess your specific situation.
Deedee Gasch has over a decade of experience litigating catastrophic claims involving serious injury or death. While Deedee’s practice is primarily focused on the defense of premises liability, trucking and commercial vehicle accidents, and medical malpractice, she also has a wide range of civil litigation experience. She spent approximately half of her career representing injured plaintiffs before returning to her first love of civil litigation defense work. This experience on both sides of a case uniquely situates her in negotiations and at trial if settlement is not possible. Deedee is a third-generation Tar Heel and attorney, following in the footsteps of her grandfather, a North Carolina Resident Superior Court Judge (deceased), and her father, a career trial lawyer. She has dual degrees in Journalism and Political Science and earned her law degree cum laude from Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville, Florida, where she attended on a prestigious merit based scholarship. She is licensed to practice law in both North Carolina and Florida.
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