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Railing accidents: What can you do?
Jim Juliano - Winter 2012

A tragedy and a near tragedy involving fans and ballpark railings last summer remind us that the excitement of the moment can lead to unfortunate decisions. Within a few days in July, one fan died after reaching for a ball and falling out of the stands at Rangers Ballpark and another was caught just in time as he went over the railing in pursuit of a ball at the Home Run Derby at Chase Field.

As you prepare for Opening Day, consider steps you can take to prevent such incidents this season:

  • ISSUE VERBAL AND WRITTEN WARNINGS. Courts have not had many opportunities to rule on railing cases, but generally have applied typical premises liability negligence principles for both claims and defenses. Under those principles, property owners may have a duty to warn of dangers—especially hidden dangers—that they know about or should know about.

    Signs that warn fans not to lean on or over the railing might make someone think twice about lunging for a ball. Adding a warning on the back of the game ticket as well would not be a bad idea.

    In addition, include a warning in your public address announcements. You should already be making one or two PA announcements during each game about foul balls and bats leaving the field. It would be simple to add a warning about railings, such as "Fans, no matter how close you think the ball might be, reaching over the railing for a ball can be dangerous. For your own safety, please don't stand near, sit on or lean over the railing."

  • MAKE SURE THE RAILINGS AND SCREENS ARE UP TO CODE. Be sure the railings comply with all applicable codes—city and state. An injury may result in a claim against parties responsible for design, construction and maintenance, including the team.

  • CONSIDER RAISING THE RAILINGS ABOVE CODE MINIMUM. The height of the railings is a trade-off between a higher degree of restraint, on the one hand, and unrestricted visibility, on the other hand. You may want to rethink this balancing test and consider raising the height, at least in some areas of the ballpark, even if the code does not require it. The cost may not be as steep as you think.

  • MAKE SURE THE RAILINGS ARE PROPERLY MAINTAINED AND IN SOUND CONDITION. If a railing is loose or rusty, you are risking an accident. Make the repairs and conduct regular inspections. When you do the inspections, document what you find so the team may show its level of diligence in satisfying its duty of care.

  • CALL YOUR INSURANCE ADVISOR AND REQUEST AN INSURANCE AUDIT. Your insurance carrier may have an audit program that involves inspecting the railings and other aspects of the ballpark for liability prevention purposes. Take advantage of the audit and see what the auditors say about your facility.

  • WATCH FOR EXCESSIVE ALCOHOL INTAKE AND INTOXICATION. Make sure your vendors are checking IDs. Enforce a last-call rule—no alcohol sales after the seventh inning is typical. Train ushers and vendors to watch for intoxicated people, especially any who are sitting near the railings.

    A January 2011 study found that one out of 12 fans leaving a baseball or football game had a blood alcohol content above the legal limit of .08 percent. Tailgaters were 14 times more likely to be intoxicated than fans not attending tailgate parties.

In addition, your league may want to consider a rule restricting the players from throwing balls into the stands, especially into the first couple of rows near the railings. I am not convinced that this rule would be a good idea. It would be very difficult to enforce since it would come down to determining intent, and it might even be counterproductive as a safety measure in that a player might throw the ball harder to get it past the front rows.



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 2012 by L. James Juliano Jr.
Legally Speaking® is a registered trademark of the law practice of L. James Juliano Jr.