To What Extent Does The Baseball Rule Protect Against Personal Injury Claims
When you go to a Major League Baseball game, do you assume all risks inherent by virtue of your attendance? One of the more common and potentially very damaging injuries that can occur at the ballpark is being struck by a foul ball, but that is but one possible injury that may occur during the course of a game.
The “Baseball Rule” has been used for a long time as a way for the league and teams to deflect potential personal injury cases, such as those eminating from being hit by a ball out of play. However, that rule does not work in favor of MLB and clubs on all occasions. Even when it may apply, it could make sense for a settlement to be reached outside of court.
For instance, in the case of Linda Goldbloom, who died after being hit in the head by a foul ball hit at Dodger Stadium, the matter was quietly resolved. Dying from being struck by a foul ball is rare (it is pointed out that only two people previously passed away from being hit by a foul ball prior to Goldbloom, during the 150-year history of MLB), but injuries are much more frequent.
More extensive netting has been added to MLB stadiums across the United States; however, that alone will not necessarily shield all teams from exposure should someone be hit by a foul ball in lieu of the steps taken to prevent damage. Further, some fans still complain that the additional netting does not go far or high enough to seriously reduce the inherent risk of attending a baseball game.
It may surprise you to learn that one state that hosts numerous professional baseball games, including Spring Training and Minor League Baseball match-ups, and is home to the Miami Marlins and Tampa Bay Rays, does not have much clarity on the books when it comes to the Baseball Rule. A recently published Florida Bar Journal article looks at exactly that issue and provides a stance on what should be done to change the current climate in the State of Florida.
The author of the piece points out that Florida state courts have never established a position on whether the Baseball Rule, in any form, is available as a defense in litigation. Meanwhile, four states, including Arizona (which also hosts Spring Training games), has made the Baseball Rule a part of its statutory law.
In Arizona, the law is that “[a]n owner is not liable for injuries to spectators who are struck by baseballs, baseball bats, or other equipment used by players during a baseball game.” That serves as a very broad protection for clubs participating in games played in the state.
Arizona’s law is so expansive that it applies to all baseball games, even those that are not sanctioned by MLB or MiLB. However, in Colorado and New Jersey, states that also have Baseball Rule statutes on the books, the Baseball Rule is limited to professional baseball games. Thus, if an injury occurs at a high school baseball game, the organizers of the game may not have the same broad protections in those states.
The author of the Florida Bar Journal piece, professor Robert M. Jarvis, suggests that the Florida legislature should consider legislation that encourages prudent behavior by players and fans, allow injured spectators to receive relief when it is appropriate under the circumstances and ensure that the cost of liability insurance remains reasonable. Some guidance would be preferable, as there is little-to-no clarity under the current laws. It is not just Florida that should consider laws that govern the Baseball Rule, but Florida does have more of a reason to act considering the sheer number of professional and amateur games played within the state each year.