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Legal Matters with Chris Richard – Liability for Spectator and Player Injury in Professional and Amateur Baseball

Baseball carries the risk of injury. Leagues are aware of the sports’ inherent dangers and have accordingly made safety rules that all players are expected to follow. Despite these best efforts, the injury still sometimes happens, and issues arise as to who is responsible. For example, who, if anyone, is responsible if a player is injured while following the regular rules of the game, or a player slips in the outfield?

It is not just the players that are exposed to dangers. Fans in the stands as well are at risk of injury from flying balls. Leagues have taken certain measures to protect fans, including the placement of nets behind home base, but does a league have a duty to protect its fans beyond this basic safety precaution?

Chris Richard is managing partner of Graves and Richard, a firm of personal injury lawyers in Niagara Falls and the surrounding region. In a recent episode of Legal Matters, Chris discussed some court cases that have addressed these issues.

When a player violates no rules of the game, there is no liability.

The case of Temple v. Hallem, [1989] 5 W.W.R. 669 illustrates the general principle that if a player violates no rule of the game and injures another player, there is no liability because players are assumed to accept the risk of accidental harm.  In that case, the plaintiff was playing the position of catcher in a softball game when the defendant, who was playing on the opposing team, went into a slide in an attempt to score. The defendant collided with the plaintiff when she tagged him out, and the plaintiff was injured in the collision. The league rules permitted sliding and placed no restrictions on its use. The plaintiff was not successful in using the player on the other team. The court found that the defendant violated none of the rules of the league, and the plaintiff assumed the risk of injury. The court held in obiter that even if a rule was violated, it would not necessarily give rise to liability because other decisions have held that only a deliberate violation of the rules calculated to do injury will give rise to civil liability. Otherwise, people who engage in sport are assumed to accept the risk of accidental harm.

A Stadium was found to be not liable for damages of a spectator hit by a foul ball.

In the case of Noonan v. Exhibition Place, [1991] O.J. No. 421, the court addressed the extent to which a league has the duty to protect spectators. In that case, the ten-year-old plaintiff, while attending a Blue Jays game at Exhibition Stadium with his father, was hit in the right eye with a foul ball. The plaintiff did not see the ball being hit because he was looking down at a bag of peanuts between his legs. The ball was traveling between 90 and 100 miles per hour. The protective screening around the baseball diamond did not extend to where the plaintiff was seated but was within the existing League norms. On the back of the ticket was a general disclaimer releasing the stadium of any negligence of any kind including being hit by a baseball. The plaintiff sued the stadium for damages.
The court dismissed the action and concluded that the Blue Jays organization had reasonably protected the spectators from damage in accordance with the acceptable standard in the industry. The court found the organization was not required to screen sections where the chance of injury was very small. The court also found that the tickets were knowingly and willingly purchased in an area that did not offer the same degree of protection as other seats that were either further away or screened.

A City was not responsible for injuries sustained by a player who slipped in the outfield.

In the case of St. Anne (Litigation Guardian of) v. Hamilton (City), [2001] O.J. No. 1807, court considered the liability of the City who maintained a baseball diamond on which the plaintiff player slipped. While running to catch a ball in the outfield, the plaintiff slipped and fell on goose excrement on the field, and suffered two broken vertebrates in his neck and a torn rotator cuff in his shoulders. The plaintiff commenced an action against the City alleging that they had breached their duty as occupiers of the baseball diamond.

The court dismissed the action, finding that there was no evidence of any effective way of permanently keeping the geese away so as to prevent excrement from being deposited on the field or that the plaintiff would have acted any differently if there were signs posted warning of the possible presence of goose excrement.

Specific knowledge by a league of a safety concern may be grounds for allowing a plaintiff’s action

In Black v. Slo-Pitch National Softball Inc., 2010 ONSC 1837, the plaintiff was blinded by the sun while attempting to catch a ball. Because the league had previously discussed this issue and didn’t take any action to prevent it, the defendant was not allowed to summarily dismiss the plaintiff’s claim. The plaintiff was playing third base in a slow pitch game when he was struck by a line drive and suffered the injury to his finger and right eye. The plaintiff had lost sight of the ball in the light of the sun. The Plaintiff commenced an action against the league for failing to take reasonable steps to protect people from being blinded by the sun.
The league’s motion for summary judgment was dismissed, and the plaintiff’s action could continue. The court found that because the league had previously considered the safety issue presented on that diamond caused by players being blinded by the sun, it found that there was a triable issue on the standard of care owed by the league where it had specific knowledge of a specific concern on a specific diamond and other parks in the area had installed sunscreens.

Baseball-Related Injuries Can Spoil Summer Fun

Baseball is to be enjoyed, but like most sports carries inherent dangers. Players and fans are exposed to the risk of injury, and a baseball-related injury could spoil summer fun. Should this occur, talking to a personal injury lawyer in Niagara Falls and the surrounding area could help place you on your best track for recovery. Contact our team today to arrange your complimentary consultation and learn how we can help you.