On August 30, 2010, Melky Cabrera of the Atlanta Braves sliced a foul ball in to the stands above the visiting team’s dugout, and hit a 6-year girl. The girl fractured her skill in 30 places and sustained a traumatic brain injury. The father brought suit against the Atlanta Braves, and just last Wednesday added Major League Baseball (MLB) to the suit. The suit alleges that the Braves and MLB are liable because they were negligent when they failed to extend the protective netting far enough to protect fans sitting adjacent to the field.
The addition of the MLB came in light of the recent proposals by the MLB themselves of extending the netting out towards the dugouts of each team. These proposals were in response to the recent increase in the numbers of gruesome and fatal injuries that have happened to fans sitting close to the dugouts. Just this year, a broken shard of a baseball bat hospitalized a fan at Fenway, another fan in Milwaukee needed 80 stitches and two titanium plates to repair her face, and a fan attending a Tigers game was hit by a line drive right to her head. Despite the history of these kinds of injuries, the father will most likely lose his case for his daughter.
The issue of foul ball injuries has been heavily litigated. Baseball clubs have often hidden behind the defense of assumption of risk. That is, fans assume the risk of being hit by a ball or bat when sitting in areas that are close to the field. Courts have often said that the risk of being hit by a ball or bat is open and obvious; meaning, a reasonable person would know that there is an inherent risk of injury when sitting so close to the action. With that being said, baseball clubs still have to take reasonable actions to ensure the safety of the fans; this often includes safety nets behind home plate or warning signs by the dugouts.