The Indiana Court of Appeals has issued a decision that significantly affect claims involving injuries to spectators at baseball games or other sporting events.
The South Shore case involved a claim brought by a spectator injured by a foul ball at a South Shore Railcats game in Gary, Indiana. The Court held that the defendants, the baseball organization and the stadium owner, were not liable to the spectator for the injuries based on a number of factors, including warnings provided to spectators and the inherent risk of being struck by a foul ball at a baseball game. The Court also held that the defendants did not owe a duty to provide protective netting that protected all fans.
The Court’s decision included a very interesting analysis of national law regarding the risks of baseball games. The Court cited and quoted Courts from Louisiana, North Carolina, Texas, California, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Washington for the following propositions:
It is well known … that it is not possible, at baseball games, for the ball to be kept at all times within the confines of the playing field, and anyone familiar with the game of baseball knows that balls are frequently fouled into the stands and bleachers. Such are common incidents of the game which necessarily involve dangers to spectators. However, danger notwithstanding, it is widely accepted that whether baseball fans are viewed as participants in the game itself or merely passive spectators, one thing is certain: the chance to apprehend a misdirected baseball is as much a part of the game as the seventh inning stretch or peanuts and Cracker Jack. In other words, spectators know about the risk of being in the stands and, in fact, welcome that risk to a certain extent. . . . [T]he frequency with which foul balls go astray, alight in the grandstand or field, and are sometimes caught and retained by onlookers at baseball games is a matter of such common everyday practical knowledge as to be a subject of judicial notice. . . . [S]pectators cannot watch many innings of an ordinary game without coming to a full realization that batters cannot, and do not, control the direction of the ball which they strike and that foul tips or liners may go in an entirely unexpected direction. One could not hear the bat strike the ball many times without realizing that the ball was a hard object. Even the sound of the contact of the ball with the gloves or mitts of the players would soon apprize him of that. Furthermore, a spectator familiar with the game assumes the reasonable risks and hazards inherent in the game … and it is common knowledge that one of these hazards is the possibility of being hit by a foul ball.
Slip Op. at p. 6-8, internal quotations and citations omitted.
This decision will clearly affect claims and lawsuits involving injuries to spectators at baseball games. It remains to be seen to what extent the decision will affect claims brought by spectators at other sporting events. Although the analysis was specific to baseball, much of the logic used would apply to, for example, spectators at hockey games being struck by hockey pucks. The logic would arguably apply to non-sporting events such as concerts, fireworks displays, or other entertainment events.
The spectator in the South Shore case still has the option to seek transfer to the Indiana Supreme Court. We should know whether the Supreme Court will take such action in approximately six months.