If you have ever attended a professional baseball game, you know that the fun includes trying to snag a foul ball which makes its way into the stands. Unfortunately, one fan’s fun can be another fan’s peril. Every so often, some unsuspecting spectator gets clunked by a foul ball traveling at a speed in excess of 90 mph. Ouch. Is a baseball team and/or its stadium operator liable for such injuries? The answer, almost always, is no, they are not liable.
Major league ballclubs and their stadium operators are protected from such liabilities by virtue of what is known as the “baseball rule”. Simply put, if a ballgame is being played under the usual conditions prevailing in ballparks (such as protective netting behind home plate) the injured fan is considered as having assumed the risk of being injured by baseballs or flying bats (the piece of equipment, not the mammal) which wind up in the crowd. This baseball rule has been the rule of law in just about every case which decided the issue during the past sixty years.
Interestingly, though, if a spectator is injured by some object other than a ball or bat, a different rule may apply. Take, for example, a spectator being hit by a flying hotdog. That actually happened at a ballgame not long ago at the home ballpark of the Kansas City Royals baseball team. The Royals like to entertain their fans between innings by having the team’s mascot launch hotdogs into the stands by use of an air gun. On one such occasion, a fan claimed he was injured when he took a hotdog in the eye, allegedly sustaining a detached retina. The injured fan filed suit and the case ultimately reached the state’s supreme court, where the court ruled that the baseball team owed a duty to its fans to use reasonable care when it launches hotdogs into the stands. Coomer v. Kansas City Royals Baseball Corp., 437 SW 3d 184, 203 (Mo. 2014).
No word yet on whether the hotdogs will have warnings placed on them before flight.