Does the ‘Baseball Rule’ still apply?

What is the Baseball Rule?

baseball ruleFor some time, baseball parks have been protected from liability in cases of fans getting hit by projectiles at baseball parks due to the so-called “Baseball Rule.” While the rule hasn’t always held up, it has, for the most part, remained safely in place. But, now people are asking, does the rule apply in the contemporary baseball park?

Most jurisdictions have adopted the Baseball Rule, which prevents baseball parks from charges of negligence when a fan is hit by part of a broken bat, a baseball or some other projectile resultant of the game being played. As long as the baseball stadium operator makes sure that the most dangerous areas of the park are covered with some sort of protective barrier – this has typically turned out to be safety netting behind home plate – than it is up to the fan to make sure he or she avoids injury, since spectators are expected to be aware of the inherent danger of attending a baseball game. This ensures that spectators’ eyes are on the game. But what about when the park itself is offering all sorts of distractions to fans?

With so many distractions, can the Baseball Rule still apply?

Is the Baseball Rule still applicable in the digital age? And if so, are parks doing enough to avoid liability when fans are injured? A recent class action lawsuit is asking that very question. Class members – baseball park season ticket-holders – intend to force Rob Manfred, the MLB commissioner, to adopt new measures league-wide to improve safety for spectators.

The suit explains that today, with the importance placed on digital entertainment even within ballparks as games are ongoing, fans cannot be expected to pay attention to the game – as the Baseball Rule requires- like they used to. While years ago spectators had nothing more to look at besides what was going on in the game, now they’re inundated with all sorts of digital attractions that may force them to take their eyes off play for a period – something that could lead to serious injury if an attendee doesn’t notice an approaching projectile.

Is safety netting correctly placed?

Another issue is the placement of safety netting in parks. If someone was to determine the most dangerous area of baseball stadiums depending on where in the park protective covering is located, he or she will likely come to the conclusion that it is behind home plate. According to the class action suit, though, this isn’t true. Some data indicates that the most dangerous areas of a baseball park are along the first and third baselines for some distance beyond the dugout. That’s a stretch of seating often unprotected and typically occupied by families who can’t afford more expensive seats behind safety netting.

The class action suit asks the commissioner to take action to protect spectators who sit between the foul lines along first- and third-base, claiming these are areas where spectators have been subject to severe and preventable injuries. With the amount of money the MLB makes annually, it goes on to say that the league and commissioner should place more netting in parks to protect fans who attend baseball games.

If you too have been hurt – or believe you are in danger of being injured – at a sporting event, contact a dedicated sports law attorney to learn more about what you can do.

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Anthony R. Caruso is a business transactional attorney in New York and New Jersey with experience in structuring, negotiation and completion of legal deals involving business, entrepreneurs, athletes and performers.

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