Known as America’s pastime, baseball is the sport that holds a special place in the nation's culture. Yet, it can be one of the most dangerous sports for spectators. With hard baseballs that can go from bats and straight into stands, fans sometimes find themselves as unintended participants in ballgames.
How Often Are Fans Struck by Baseballs During Games?
Most balls that make their way into the crowd don’t harm anyone. In fact, many people bring a glove to the game with the hope that they can catch a souvenir to take home. However, many balls enter the crowd at dangerous speeds. This has led to many teams installing netting to protect fans sitting in areas most at risk of being a landing zone for dangerous foul balls. Even if the velocity of a ball isn’t as high as it could be, some fans can be injured after being struck by a ball they didn’t know was about to hit them. Distractions such as food and conversation can cause fans to miss that they're in the path of an incoming ball.
According to one report, foul balls injured more than 800 people at Major League Baseball games between 2012 and 2019. According to the report, only four agencies that respond to emergencies report injuries sustained at ballparks. This means that we don’t have information about injuries from the other 26 stadiums and teams.
"I think the number is a lot higher than people realize. I think the teams know it," said Bob Gorman, author of a book that documents fatalities at ballparks. "I think they've intentionally downplayed it."
Baseballs are hard, roughly the size of a fist, and fly from bats at speeds in excess of 100 mph. In some instances, it can take less than a second for a ball to reach a fan after being struck by a player—a window that is too fast for most people to react.
Severe Injuries Caused by Foul Balls
According to a study by Bloomberg, there were an estimated 1,756 injuries sustained at MLB baseball stadiums in 2013. That translates to an average of almost three injuries for every four games played. While many of these injuries may be simple bumps and bruises caused by being hit by an errant foul ball, others have not been so lucky. A ball traveling at 80mph is traveling at 117 feet per second. Fans who are sitting close to the action have very little time to spot and react to a fly ball that is heading in their direction. And with the speeds at which the ball is traveling, being hit can lead to severe injuries, particularly if hit in the head.
Baseballs can cause injuries such as:
Children are at a high risk of being severely injured by a foul ball:
- In 2017, a young girl was hit by a foul ball at Yankee Stadium and sustained serious injuries.
- In 2013, a foul ball sent an 18-month-old baby to the hospital.
- In 2011, a 12-year-old child was put in intensive care after being struck by a foul ball.
- In 2008, a 7-year-old boy was struck in the head by a foul ball at a Chicago Cubs game. He spent a week in the hospital and had brain swelling to the point that doctors considered surgery. He later had to learn how to walk and climb stairs again.
- In 1970, a fan was killed by a fly ball in Dodger Stadium.
- 2 other fans, one in 1960 and one in 2010, were killed by fly balls in minor league stadiums.
These incidents—and others like it—brought enough attention to the issue that all teams in Major League Baseball eventually extended the safety nets around their fields. Yet, it took nearly three years for every team to extend safety netting.
Can Injured Fans Sue After Ballpark Injuries?
When people attend a game, concert, or other event held at a venue, they are putting their trust in the owners of the facility to have it properly maintained and safeguarded. However, this isn't always the case, and individuals can often suffer any number of accidents from serious injury to death.
Ultimately, ballpark accidents can fall under something known as premises liability. Simply put, premises liability means that property owners are responsible for protecting the safety of anyone who visits their property. In the case of a baseball game, a stadium owner must protect fans and ensure their safety during the event.
Ballpark owners should protect fans from things such as:
- Unsafe conditions and hazards
- Dangerous fans
- Slip and falls
- Foul balls
Stadium Liability & "The Baseball Rule"
Major League teams have always relied on what is known as "The Baseball Rule" to protect themselves from liability for fans who are injured as spectators. This rule states that as long as team owners screen the most dangerous areas of the ballpark (such as directly behind home plate), they are not liable for injuries that occur in other parts of the stadium, which are considered "open and obvious" risks inherent in the game. This rule has allowed team owners to prevail in negligence lawsuits filed by injured fans.
But many fans and legal experts are beginning to wonder if the" baseball rule" has become outdated. In this era with smaller ballparks, fans seated closer and closer to the field of play, and stadiums coming equipped with nonstop entertainment distractions on the Jumbotron and other places throughout the stadium, it may be time to re-evaluate what constitutes the "most dangerous" areas n the stadium and what should be the minimum standard to meet "reasonable protections" for fans seated near the field of play.
Some courts are already showing signs of turning the tide. In the past year, appeals courts in Georgia and Idaho have refused to adopt the "baseball rule." The court determined that the primary or secondary assumption of risk is not a defense unless the situation involves express written or oral consent. It remains to be seen if other courts follow suit, but these two rulings may give way to a more traditional duty of care that is applied to general negligence principles.
Call Our Recreational Event Accident Lawyers Now: (888) 493-1629
There are many other public venues aside from ballparks and stadiums in which individuals can sustain injuries including airports, bus and train stations, ports, amusement parks, casinos, and many others. Regardless of what activity occurs on their property, owners must make sure those they invite to use it are safe.
When you or someone you loved is injured in a recreational event accident, there is a limited time to act. If you were an attendee of a recreational event when you were injured, you might be able to secure compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, pain, suffering, and any other struggle caused by your accident. Calling our ballpark injury lawyers today at (888) 493-1629 is free and will help you decide what to do next.