Watch at your own risk…

Baseball is America’s favorite past time. The love of the game is centuries old and has been shared for generations. The game of baseball creates a passion and a stir in the hearts of true fans. While that passion is very much expressed in the stands during a major league baseball game, attending a game has an odd sense of serenity and relaxation, almost therapeutic. However, depending on where you are sitting, most ballpark owners would say, “watch at your own risk.”

Fenway Park in Boston, is the oldest and one of the most iconic ballparks in Major League Baseball. Fenway most certainly shows its age in certain areas, like its tiny seats, but for the most part, all MLB ballparks are similar in a lot of ways. One of those commonalities is the lack of safety netting along the baselines. The netting is to protect fans sitting in some of the most coveted seats in the park. Nonetheless, the serenity and tranquility of a watching a game can quickly be erased by a speeding foul ball or severed bat coming at your head. Spectators sitting along the baseline have reason to be on edge or weary of what may happen during the game. According to a 2014 study by Bloomberg News, 1,750 spectators were injured annually at M.L.B. games.

This past July, the broken bat of A’s infielder Brett Lawrie struck a fan in the head, as she was in her seat along the third-base line. Her injuries were described as life threatening. She bled profusely, and her screams were gut wrenching. After the event, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Major League Baseball claiming it did too little to protect fans from fast-moving foul balls and splintered bats. Plaintiffs are asking for netting to be added far down the first and third base lines.

Is there a legal precedent to a suit of this nature?  This issue is not new; it is actually quite old. Courts have generally held that baseball stadium owners had a limited duty to provide netting, and that fans assumed the risk of being injured by a ball or bat.  A case brought before the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts dating back to 1950, ruled in similar fashion. In that case, the Plaintiff was hit by a foul ball as she was sitting along the first base line. The court held that although the Plaintiff was a business invitee, which required the ballpark owner certain duties to keep the premises in a safe condition and to warn them against any dangers, no warning is required to be given to one who has already assumed the risk. The Plaintiff had been to several games in the past, therefore she knew of the danger. What if someone attends a game for the very first time, is the risk still assumed? More than likely, yes. Even if it is your first experience, the situation is so obvious that a person of ordinary intelligence would readily sense the likelihood of the impending harm.

So where does that leave the pending class-action suit against M.L.B today? More than likely the court will have the same reasoning and interpretation of the law. However, the threat of suit may provoke Major League Baseball to take action in providing more safety to its spectators. While adding nets down the baselines may reduce the entertainment of being in those “great seats”, perhaps safety to the spectators should outweigh the entertainment value. Although spectators carry a risk in attending, perhaps Major League Baseball has a duty to not make the risk, worse than it ought to be.


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