Heads up! Baseball, Hot Dogs and… Personal Risk at the Ball Park?

Spring training has started and many people are thinking about opening day and about heading to the ball park. After all, who doesn’t  want to get a souvenir? But remember that when sitting in an open and unprotected area, you could be at risk without recourse.

In Michigan and in almost all jurisdictions, a stadium owner will not be liable if someone is hit by objects flying from the baseball field. Michigan has adopted the limited duty rule. Believe it or not the first case addressing this was in 2001, Benejam v Detroit Tigers 246 Mich App 645 (2001).

In this case, a minor suffered injuries when she was hit by a fragment of a baseball bat during the game. Her parents sued the Tigers. The trial court indicated it was a matter of first impression and adopted the "limited duty" rule, holding a baseball stadium owner is not liable for injuries to spectators that result from projectiles leaving the field during play if safety screening has been provided behind home plate and if there are a sufficient number of protected seats to meet ordinary demand.         

The court cited cases from several other jurisdictions and ruled that the limited duty rule should be applied. The court reasoned that no one of ordinary intelligence could watch a baseball game without coming to a realization that batters cannot and do not control the direction of the ball. The court even noted that there was an inherent value in having seats unprotected by a screen because patrons generally wanted to be involved with the game and come in contact with a projectile from the field like a souvenir baseball. The court quoted from a California case in which it stated that catching a misdirected baseball was as much as part of the game as “the seventh inning stretch or peanuts and Cracker Jacks.” So, the owner of the stadium who provides protection, to the most dangerous area, like behind home-plate, fulfills its duty. 

However, if you were hit by a “hot dog” it might be different. In Coomer v. Kansas City Royals Baseball Corp., 4307 S.W.3d 184 (2014), a spectator at a Royals game (vs the Tigers I might add) was hit by a hot dog during a promotion when the mascot “Sluggerrr” was handing out hot dogs by tossing them to the fans close by.

The injured patron who was six rows behind the dug out turned away momentarily and was struck in the eye causing a detached retina. The trial court found the risk of being hit by a hot dog was not one inherent in the game or not an unavoidable part of it and that the Royals owed the fans a duty to use reasonable care in conducting the “Hot Dog Launch” (Incidentally the Tigers lost the game 7-5). But, at least they were not responsible for the hot dog toss.

So, if you wish to watch a baseball game and avoid the chance of being hit by a ball or a broken bat, then purchase tickets behind the netting. Otherwise, you may have no recourse. But if you’re hit by a hot dog it may be a different story.

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