Are sports teams liable for the injuries that might occur to fans?

July 3, 2019

The attention of the baseball world will shift to Cleveland this week for the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. But not all the focus will be on what takes place on the field. There’s been an ongoing debate about fan safety — and, furthermore, who is liable for that safety.

Major League Baseball revised its policy in 2018 that all 30 franchises would extend the protective netting from behind home plate to the far end of both dugouts. But the extended netting still isn’t enough to protect every fan from every hard-hit foul ball or shattered baseball bat.

That brings us to the next question: Are sports teams liable for the injuries that might occur to fans who are struck by a foul ball, a broken bat, or a hockey puck? In short, according to an analysis by the Chicago Tribune, not so much.

[Sports teams have] been shielded largely by what’s known in legal circles as the “assumption of risk” doctrine, though many know it simply as the “baseball rule.” It dates back to fine print that originated in 1913… Whether you’ve noticed it or not on tickets (or whatever passes for tickets these days) there is language about how the bearer of the ticket assumes all risks and dangers to the sport of baseball. The legal certainty the doctrine has long afforded could erode in time, but courts have tended to accept that your safety is your responsibility.

If you buy a ticket, you enter into a contract specific to those terms printed on the ticket, and when attend a sporting event, you are responsible for your own safety. The “Baseball Rule”, has made it nearly impossible for fans to recoup any financial compensation from the league or its teams for injuries — or even the medical expenses.

Even in the instances when an injured fan filed a lawsuit, those cases against MLB have seen little success and are often thrown out. A Bloomberg News analysis found that approximately 1,750 fans per year are injured at major league games, but a handful have successfully sued a baseball team, the New York Times writes. Based on a recent ESPN survey, baseball fans are more divided on whether MLB teams should be held responsible when a fan is hit, with a slight majority saying teams should not be held responsible.

In the meantime, though, when it comes to protecting fan safety, no one is protected better by the law than the leagues and franchises. So the next time you’re at a ballgame and the umpire yells “Play ball,” that includes you, too.

If you’re injured at a sporting event, schedule a no-cost consultation with the personal injury attorneys of Lowe Scott Fisher to discuss your legal options. Contact us at (216) 781-2600 to speak with a lawyer, or use the contact form on our website.

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