The Indiana Supreme Court recently vacated the opinion of South Shore Baseball, LLC v. DeJesus, 982 N.E.2d 1076 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013) and granted transfer. The Court could ultimately issue an opinion which would set legal precedent as to how teams conduct off-the-field conduct with their fans. In South Shore Baseball, the Plaintiff, a spectator at a baseball game, was struck in the face by a foul ball and suffered fractured bones in her face and blindness in her eye. She was not sitting in an area protected by screens. She sued the baseball team and stadium operator under theories of premises liability and negligence.
For the premises liability claim, the Court of Appeals held as a matter of law that “the risk of getting hit by a foul ball at a baseball game does not amount to an unreasonable risk of harm” and concluded, “As such, we conclude that, like the risk associated with an individual on a golf course, the risk that a spectator at a baseball game might be hit by a foul ball does not qualify as ‘unreasonable risk of harm’”. Before transfer was granted, the Court of Appeals remanded the case with instructions to the trial court to issue an order granting summary judgment to the Defendants.
As for the negligence claim, the Court of Appeals recognized that the majority of jurisdictions provide that, as a matter of law, operators of baseball stadiums have only a limited duty to provide protective screening in the area behind home plate and stated, “[T]he operator of a stadium is not an insurer of its patron’s safety and the perils are not so imminent that the due care on the part of the management requires all the spectators to be screened in.”
The Missouri Supreme Court is deciding whether the “baseball rule”, in other words, whether fans know about the risk of being in the stands, should also apply to injuries caused by mascots or other team personnel who engage fans. In that case, a fan was injured at a Kansas City Royals game when the team mascot threw a foil-wrapped hot dog into the stands striking the fan in the eye. The trial court jury ruled in favor of the Royals on the basis that the fan was at fault for not being aware of what was going on around him. The Missouri Appellate Court overturned the trial court ruling and found in favor of the fan. The court held that while being struck by a baseball is an inherent risk, being hit by a hotdog is not.
That ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court in favor of the spectator could alter the way Missouri and other states and cities’ teams’ personnel, from mascots to cheerleaders, engage with fans at the ballpark.