In San Diego, the Padres have been the baseball team for many years. The below example did not occur at a Padres game however it could have and the analogy is the same. If you are injured in a similar manner at a Padres game, please feel free to call our law office of Law Office of Scott C. Soady, A Professional Corporation, LLP or send us an e mail if you prefer. Our firm sponsored the “Fan of the Game” in August,1999 when the Padres played the Brewers.
Practically since our national pastime was in its infancy, operators of baseball stadiums have benefited from a more limited duty to spectators than that which generally applies to businesses that invite the public to come onto their property. Alone among spectator sports, baseball has fans who actively try to catch errant balls, sometimes even risking life and limb to get one. Even if fans would just as soon avoid the batted or thrown balls, the law has assumed that they are aware of the risks from these balls when they take their seats in the stands. The limited duty favoring fans generally is met if seats with protective screening are provided for as many people as normally would want them.
But what of the unsuspecting fan who is clobbered by a foul ball when he has left the sanctuary of his screen-protected seat to get a beer from a vendor? That was the misfortune of a fan who overcame the limited-duty rule when he sued a minor league baseball team for his injuries. A state supreme court ruled that his lawsuit could proceed under ordinary negligence principles.
The limited-duty rule for baseball fans loses its rationale when an injury from a flying ball occurs somewhere other than in the stands. In other areas of a stadium, it is foreseeable and predictable that fans will let down their guard. They may not even be paying attention to the game at such times and places, nor should they have to for their own safety. In the case at hand, when he was struck by the ball, the fan was chatting with other people in the line for concessions, and he could not have seen the batter hit the ball even if he had tried.
The court’s concern for fans was heightened by some changes in baseball as a spectator sport. Children and seniors frequently attend professional baseball games. Today’s players hit baseballs harder and farther. In keeping with the notion of the sport as multifaceted entertainment, ballparks today present what one observer has called “a sensory overload of distractions.” As the court observed, “the beauty of common law is the ability to adapt to the times.”