A week or so ago, at Yankee Stadium, a foul ball flew off Todd Frazier’s bat at 110 miles per hour and clocked a toddler in the face. She was seated in the stands behind the third-base dugout with her grandpa. It hit her face so hard that players and fans alike grasped. The game stopped. It was a horrible scene. This video shows only the reaction of the players, not the impact itself:
When I saw this video, my first thought, like everyone else’s, was, “oh my god, I hope she’ll be all right, that poor girl!”. My second thought was less emotional and more lawyerly: “can the Stadium be held liable”? But then, before I had even finished that second thought, my third thought overtook it: “No, it can’t be held liable”.
Why can’t we sue the owners of Yankee Stadium be held liable for this? Shouldn’t there have been some sort of protective netting to prevent this from happening? Shouldn’t they have protected this poor girl from harm? After all, this is not a one-time fluke event. It is a regular occurrence at baseball stadiums all over the USA. In fact, this episode was at least the third time this season that a fan was hit by a ball or a broken bat at Yankee Stadium.
Let me digress for a moment. A few years ago I represented a teenage girl who was struck solidly in the face by a foul ball at Auburn NY’s Falcon Stadium. She had been eating a hotdog over by a hotdog stand near first base. There were picnic tables set up for consuming vendor food right there. A 4-foot high wire-mesh fence separated the picnic tables from the first baseline. The ball flew over the fence and hit her right in the eye, causing an orbital fracture with some loss of vision.
After doing my legal research, I had to inform her and her family – while the injury was still fresh – that I could not help them. Ouch. Talk about adding insult to injury.
Here’s the rule that doomed that poor girl’s case, and will also doom this young Yankees fan’s case: It is called “the Baseball Rule” and has been adopted by more than half of the States, including New York. The rule limits the liability of stadium owners as long as they screen, with nets, the most dangerous areas of the park and areas where fans may be reasonably expected to want protected seats, i.e., generally behind home plate. This theoretically gives baseball fans a “choice” of buying a “safe” seat behind home plate or a seat outside of the “safe” area. If they choose a seat outside the netted area, then the law says they have “voluntarily assumed the risk” of getting hit with a bat or ball. The stadium owner cannot be held liable.
This rule is said to balance the desire of many fans to have an unobstructed view of the game (watching the game through a net is kind of annoying) and the needs of others to feel safe from stray balls and bats.
In Rosenfeld v. Hudson Valley Stadium Corp., for example, a fan was struck by a foul ball while seated in a picnic area located within a minor league baseball stadium and sued. The Court threw the case out after reiterating the long-standing New York baseball rule that “the proprietor of a ball park need only provide screening for the area of the field behind home plate where the danger of being struck by a ball is the greatest” and, as long as such screening is “of sufficient extent to provide adequate protection for as many spectators as may reasonably be expected to desire such seating in the course of an ordinary game,” the proprietor “fulfills the duty of care imposed by law and, therefore, cannot be liable in negligence” (citing, Akins v Glens Falls City School Dist., 53 NY2d 325, 331 ).
We wish the young Yankee fan a speedy recovery. And if you are going to attend a baseball game, especially with children, choose your seats carefully . .
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Syracuse NY Personal Injury Lawyers
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.