MLB – LACK OF NETTING IN BALL PARKS & THE “BASEBALL RULE LAW”
On June 5, 2015, a fan was gravely injured while attending a baseball game at Boston’s Fenway Park, after she was hit in the face by a broken bat. She was sitting in a second row seat between home plate and the third-base dugout, beyond the required netting area.
Currently, MLB only requires seats behind home plate to be netted for spectators’ safety from foul balls.
Within days of that incident, it was revealed that since 2007, the MLB players union twice proposed increased netting in ballparks “extending down the foul lines and even to the foul poles” for the protection of spectators.
However, MLB owners twice voted down these proposals, citing fears that increased netting would obstruct fans views, especially for those sitting in the expensive “premium” seats (mostly in front down the foul lines).
Obviously, accidents similar to June 5 could have been prevented if MLB owners simply agreed to put up increased netting.
Instead, they were worried that premium ticket holders might be turned off by the netting blocking their views and have decreased access to the players (autographs, getting baseballs, etc.),
It’s upsetting that MLB owners have had the confidence to withstand the pressure of putting up these safety features in these dangerous unscreened areas, because they currently have protection in courts of law.
Referred to as the “Baseball Rule”, a traditional law has been adopted by a “majority of jurisdictions” which limits owners’ responsibilities to fan safety in the “zone of danger” only to the area behind home plate.
Essentially, it puts the burden on spectators sitting in unscreened areas to assume the risk of being injured by debris entering the stands during the ordinary course of play and pregame.
According to an article written by James C. Kozlowski, J.D., Ph.D. on June 1, 2013, “the Baseball Rule avoids creating a potential lawsuit for every ball entering the stands and striking a spectator. Absent the Baseball Rule, under general principles of landowner liability for negligence, each spectator injury would have to be considered on a case-by-case basis based upon the particular circumstances of a particular game in each stadium setting. Accordingly, the Baseball Rule avoids a flood of litigation by increasing the likelihood that a spectator lawsuit will be dismissed prior to trial on a motion for summary judgment.”
Thus, rather than holding MLB owners liable for every incident of a fan getting hit by balls in unscreened areas, the courts have decided not to open the flood gates and protect them from being barraged by law suits.
A July 14, 2014 article on AtlantaMagazine.com suggests that data released in 2003 as part of a lawsuit showed that during a 5-year period in the 1990s at Fenway Park, between 36-53 people were injured by foul balls each season.
If we take that average (44) that’s the number of law suits that each owner could potentially expect to face each MLB season from fans getting hurt in unscreened areas.
As a result of protection under the “Baseball Rule Law”, MLB owners seem to be willing to roll the dice with our well-being.
It’s safe to assume then, that MLB knows about this law. The only requirement for netting in ball parks is the same area(s) which owners could be dinged for in a court of law.
Certainly, if June 5th’s almost fatal incident does not propel MLB to require extra netting, perhaps it’s time for courts to open up liability to the owners in unscreened areas.
Further, if MLB chooses not to require the extra netting, it needs to be held accountable for letting owners choose their stance on issues that pertain to spectators’ safety.
In the meantime, for those fans sitting in these unscreened areas, be forewarned that the law may not be on your side.
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