Even though it doesn’t really feel like spring has fully sprung in NYC, baseball is back! The Mets and Yankees both won their home openers (despite the weather), and both teams are expected to have winning seasons.
Though the game itself is enthralling, one of the things that makes baseball endlessly interesting is its unique relationship to the legal world. Our nation’s “national pastime” tends to get special treatment from the court system.
For example, minor league players aren’t subject to wage and hour laws. And since 1922, antitrust laws have not applied to Major League Baseball because the United States Supreme Court ruled baseball was a game rather than a business, and thus isn’t bound by laws enacted under the interstate commerce clause. While these legal quirks mostly impact the players and team owners, there is a legal issue that directly impacts fans – the “baseball rule.”
The baseball rule protects baseball teams and players from being sued when a spectator is injured at the ballpark by a thrown or batted ball or a flying bat. If a fan gets hit by a foul ball or a broken bat, there’s little point in suing the team or the player because the court will dismiss the case, even if the fan is seriously injured.
The courts have ruled that fans know they risk getting injured when they come to the game, so the team and players do not owe them a duty of care. How are fans supposed to know this? Well, if you look at the back of your ticket, it says something like: “The holder assumes all risk and danger inherent to the game of Baseball, whether occurring prior to, during, or subsequent to, the actual playing of the game, including specifically (but not exclusively) the danger of being injured by thrown bats, fragments thereof, and thrown or batted balls, and agrees that the (name of club) are not liable for injuries resulting from such injuries.”
This is pretty different from the way personal injury law works outside of the ballpark. Typically, someone who is injured can get compensation from another person or organization if:
- The other party owed a duty of care to the injured party.
- The other party breached their duty.
- The breach was the actual and proximate cause of an injury.
- And the injured party suffered damages.
So, if a display in a grocery store falls over and you get hit in the face by a can of soup, you can sue, but if you get hit in the face with a baseball during a game, you are out of luck. Even if the type and degree of injury are the same.
However, the future of the baseball rule is uncertain. There have been some well-publicized injuries over the past few years that have weakened public support for the rule, and inspired ball clubs to expand the protective netting in their parks further down the foul lines. If courts are also persuaded that the modern game is more dangerous to fans, and does not deserve protection, the baseball rule may go the way of the spitball and the “catch it on one bounce” outs.
Posted in: Personal Injury Law