By Doyice Cotten
In a recent Ohio case, an appellate court looked at the “Baseball Rule.” The “Baseball Rule,” which has been followed in most jurisdictions, limits the landowner duty of care owed to spectators at baseball games to providing reasonable protection in the form of screening behind home plate. Those spectators choosing to view the game in an unscreened area assume the open and obvious risk of being struck by balls entering the stands in the ordinary course of play, including pregame.
In Rawlins v. Cleveland Indians Baseball Company, Inc. (2015), Keith Rawlins attended an Indians baseball game. Near the end of the game, he contends he was ordered to leave his seating area because of a post-game fireworks display. While doing so, he was struck by a foul ball; he filed suit against the club, which contended that he was not ordered to leave the area.
Signs notified spectators of the fireworks show that was to take place after the game that evening. Signs on the concourse read: “FIREWORKS TONIGHT. SECTIONS 170-179 WILL BE CLEARED AT THE CONCLUSION OF THE GAME.” The message was also announced over the PA system during the game. In addition, each ticket for a Cleveland Indians home game contained the following warning:
WARNING: The holder assumes all risk and danger incidental to the baseball game (“Game”) including all activities or events before, during or after the baseball game (“Game Events”) including, but not limited to, the danger of being injured by equipment or on-field personnel entering the spectator areas, and consents, to the furthest extent permitted by law, that the Cleveland Indians all entities and affiliates associated with Major League Baseball together with their respective agents, players, officers, employees and owners shall not be liable for injuries or loss of personal property resulting from such causes and/or any accidents or incidents associated with crowds of people.
Further signs throughout the seating area warned spectators to “BE ALERT — OBJECTS MAY ENTER SEATING AREA AND CAUSE INJURY.”
A key issue considered was whether he had been forced to leave the seating area. Some spectators said they were forced, others said they were not. Without doubt, they were encouraged to leave seating they had paid for prior to the end of the game.
Ohio “Baseball Rule”
The court looked at previous Ohio cases involving the “Baseball Rule.” In an early case (Cincinnati Baseball Club v. Eno, 1925), Eno was injured during the intermission between games of a double header; players were practicing near an unscreened area. The court held that this created an exception to the baseball rule and created a question of fact; the court indicated that only those risks directly associated with the activity are within the scope of primary assumption of risk.
In a 2007 case (Harting v. Dayton Dragons Baseball Club), a spectator was injured while distracted from the game by a mascot. The court ruled:
. . . team mascots and their antics are a common phenomena, and the mascots are normally present during the entire course of the game. In many cases, the team mascots are more popular than the team itself. Simply because the Chicken appeared while the game was being played does not absolve Harting from the duty to protect herself from the ordinary risks inherent in the sport. As noted by the Dragons, Harting knew the game was still in play, and she was aware that a batter was at the plate. Thus, she had a duty to be on the lookout for errant balls entering the stands.
The Rawlins court found there was a genuine issue of fact as to whether Rawlins was compelled to move from his seat. Also, the question “If Rawlins was compelled to move, does that create an attendant circumstance that would override the ‘Baseball Rule?’” was deemed to be a genuine issue of fact. The court pointed out that other courts have stated the sponsor of a sporting event has a duty “not to increase the risk of harm over and above the inherent risk of the sport.”
Subsequently, the court ruled that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to the Cleveland Indians. Ruling was reversed and remanded for further proceedings by the trial court.
Photo Credit: Thanks to Cathy T on Flickr.