Is it Time to Abolish the Baseball Rule?

Research from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business suggests that the risk of fans being hit by foul balls or errant bats at baseball games has increased in recent years and, as such, it may be time to reconsider the “Baseball Rule.”

What is the Baseball Rule?

The Baseball Rule is a legal doctrine that immunizes baseball teams and stadium owners from liability and has been in effect for over 100 years. Generally, the Baseball Rule limits the landowner duty of care owed to spectators to providing a reasonable protection in the form of screening behind home plate. Spectators who choose to view the game in an unscreened area assume the open and obvious risk of being struck by balls entering the stands during the ordinary course of play. This legal doctrine has been adopted by a majority of the courts in this country generally as a practical matter. It avoids creating a potential lawsuit for every ball entering the stands and striking a spectator. Without the Baseball Rule, each spectator injury would have to be considered on a case-by-case basis based on the particular circumstances of a particular game in each stadium setting. Naturally, this scheme would flood the courts with personal injury claims. The Baseball Rule avoids that outcome by imposing a bright-line rule: If you choose to sit in an unprotected seat, you assume the risk of getting struck by a baseball.

Challenging the Baseball Rule

Now, however, researchers are beginning to question the wisdom of the Baseball Rule. “The professional baseball industry is radically different today than it was a century ago,” wrote Nathaniel Grow, an associate professor of business law and ethics at Kelley. “Nevertheless, courts continue to rely on 100-year-old legal doctrine when determining whether to hold teams liable for spectator injuries resulting from errant balls or bats.” Further analysis has shown that the risk of being hit by a flying object at MLB games has increased with the construction of nearly two dozen stadiums since 1992, with spectators sitting more than 20% closer to the action than they did throughout most of the 20th century. Today, the typical foul ball enters the stands at speeds between 100 and 110 miles per hour. At that rate, a fan seated 60 feet from home plate has four-tenths of a second to react, if they are paying close attention to the action.

Although calls to abolish the Baseball Rule have grown in recent years, courts still dutifully apply it to spectator injury lawsuits. Proponents of abolishing the Baseball Rule claim that many foul-ball related injuries could easily be avoided through the installation of additional safety netting at little cost to the teams. Abolishing the rule would speed up this process, since it would force teams to fully internalize the cost of the accidents their games produce.

Contact an Atlanta Personal Injury Attorney

If you have been injured at a sporting event due to negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact the attorneys at Slappey & Sadd for a free consultation to discuss your case by calling 404-255-6677. We serve the entire state of Georgia, including the following locations: Roswell, Sandy Springs, and Marietta.

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