Fair or Foul? Rules Regarding Liability for Foul Ball Injuries at Baseball Games in North Carolina
In a July 17th opinion the North Carolina Court of Appeals provided a brief primer as to liability for injuries at baseball games. In Bryson v. Coastal Plain League the Plaintiff, Mr. Bryson, made a personal injury claim for injuries he sustained during pre-game warmups at a Coastal Plain League baseball game between the Gastonia Grizzlies and Martinsville Mustangs at Sims Legion Park in Gastonia. At the time of the incident Mr. Bryson was standing along a fence next to the bullpen when he was struck in the face by a wild pitch…ouch!
The Court of Appeals began its review of the relevant law by citing rulings in previous cases which held that operators of a baseball stadium need not provide screened seats for all patrons. Instead it is sufficient if the stadium has a reasonable number (not sure what this really means) screened seats behind home plate—-generally recognized as the most dangerous vantage point from which to view a game. This high risk of danger is due to foul balls. When a spectator chooses to sit in seats that are not protected by a screen the spectator assumes the risk of injury and must be attentive to balls and bats and other objects that may leave the playing field and come in his direction. Mr. Bryson’s choice of seat—the unscreened beer garden—put him in harm’s way and essentially absolved the stadium operators and baseball teams of any liability for injuries from foul balls. The Court of Appeals made clear that foul balls and wild pitches are “hazards incident to the game” and spectators must be vigilent or risk injury at their own expense. Based on this reasoning the Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of Mr. Bryson’s personal injury claim.
So is the Court’s decision a foul ball? I would say not. I would venture to say that most persons attending baseball games and sporting events have an idea as to the risks related to items leaving the playing surface. As a sports lover and a baseball fan I have been to many games and realize there are multiple risks present. For example I am a frequent attendee at UNCG (Go Spartans!) baseball games and their beautiful stadium features grassy knolls that run along the first- and third-base lines. The only area of the stadium that is protected by a screen is—-you guessed it!—the area behind home plate. The grassy knolls and some of the seats extend beyond the screened area so persons attending a game must be on high alert. True story: my youngest brother and I went to the final UNCG baseball home game last season and we sat in canvas chairs down the first-base line. The very first pitch of the game was popped foul and landed near my brother and I. We both realized the ball was coming toward us so I stood up in an attempt to catch it bare-handed. As luck would have it the ball bounced off my hand and directly into my brother’s hands as he remained seated in his chair. A neat story which illustrates the risks of the game, the importance of being attentive, and how some luck and coordination can earn you a free souvenir.
In all seriousness, baseball is America’s pasttime and hundreds of people across North Carolina will attend games this summer and beyond. Enjoy yourself but be careful and remain attuned to your surroundings to prevent injury. If you sustain an injury at a baseball game or other sporting event and sustain serious injury contact the O’Neal Law Office for a free consultation.