<em>Legally</em> <strong>Speaking</strong>


Are all your bases covered?
The bottom line on inside-the-park liability
Jim Juliano - Summer 2005

Jim Juliano spoke on team liability for ballpark injuries at the Baseball Winter Meetings for the teams of the Northwest League in Anaheim, Calif., in December 2004. The following is based on his presentation:

Foul balls, flying bats and other dangers at the ballpark put spectators and participants at risk of injury and team owners at risk of lawsuits.

The typical claim against a team for injury to a spectator or a participant involves the law of negligence. While case law on negligence varies from state to state, certain common elements exist and are worth reviewing to minimize risks.

The elements of negligence—all of which must be proved for a plaintiff to win a case—are the following:

  • The defendant owes a “duty of care” to the plaintiff.
  • The defendant breaches the duty of care to the plaintiff.
  • The breach of duty proximately causes an injury to the plaintiff.
  • The injury is compensable.

Typical defenses are:

  • The plaintiff assumed the risk of injury.
  • The plaintiff was comparatively negligent and at least 50 percent at fault for the injury.

Under the “duty of care” element, a team owner owes fans the duty to take reasonable care to protect them from known or foreseeable dangers that they are not likely to notice. There is no duty to protect spectators from unforeseeable dangers.

Ballpark safety checklist

  Have on-field participants sign participant waivers.
Your insurance carrier and your attorney will provide examples.

  Post warning signs about foul balls. There are two good reasons to do so: (a) the spectator will have actual knowledge of the risk, and (b) while not required, it's advisable for management to warn of any danger.

  Promptly attend to an injured fan. Most litigation involves a high element of emotion and anger, at least at the beginning. An injured fan should be treated both medically and emotionally with care and attention.

  Have a reasonable procedure for medical attention to an injured party and make sure employees follow the procedure.

  Have competent on-site medical care available.

  Make sure your home plate screening is comparable to
screening at other parks and is properly maintained.

  Minimize any distractions during the game when balls are flying.

  Keep the kids zone, the barbecue and other distractions away from the path of batted balls.

  Have an emergency evacuation plan for use in the event of a catastrophe.

What is reasonable care? The so-called baseball rule requires the owner to protect the most dangerous seats in the park with screening and to provide enough screened seats to reasonably fulfill requests from spectators on an ordinary occasion. The screening must be properly maintained and adequate per the industry standard, which is the custom and practice generally followed in ballparks. There is no duty to warn of known dangers, such as thrown or hit balls.

If the owner satisfies this duty of care, he or she will have acted with due care and likely will not be found negligent.

If this duty is not satisfied, remember that the plaintiff still must prove cause and compensability in order to recover damages.

The owner's most important defense in case law is assumption of the risk, which provides that when a spectator should know, understand and appreciate the risks, the owner will not be held liable for an injury. Baseball fans, for example, assume the risk of getting hit by a foul ball every time they go to a game.

Assumption of the risk defenses are very similar to comparative negligence defenses, which state that the injured party is at least 50 percent responsible for the injury.

Certain cases involve facts that may call these defenses into question. For example, courts will generally find a way to rule that an injured minor did not have the mental capacity to assume risk. A court found no assumption of risk in a case involving a latent or hidden danger—namely, a hole in the screening.

Prevention is the best cure, of course. The tips listed in the box to the right should help to minimize risks of injury and lawsuits. Check with your legal counsel and insurance carrier for other ideas.





This website contains general information that should not be considered legal advice or legal opinion concerning individual situations. Legal counsel should be consulted for specific advice.

Copyright 2005 by L. James Juliano Jr.
Legally Speaking® is a registered trademark of the law practice of L. James Juliano Jr.