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Wilshire Law Firm Blog

Should the ‘Baseball Rule’ Still Stand?



On June 5, single mother and Boston Red Sox fan Tonya Carpenter was watching her team take on the Oakland Athletics when a bat used by Oakland third baseman Brett Lawrie shattered and flew into the stands. Carpenter, who was sitting in the first few rows behind the A’s on-deck circle, was struck in the face and seriously injured. After she was taken out of the stadium in a stretcher, ushers wiped blood from the row where she was sitting. All in all, it was a horrific scene.

Fortunately, Carpenter has made significant strides towards recovery since then. She woke after undergoing emergency surgery the day after the incident and was discharged from the hospital soon after. Reports indicate that she is currently resting at home and doing well.

Yet, there are still challenges ahead. Since her injuries were serious, Carpenter faces exorbitant surgical and rehabilitation expenses, in addition to the costs of general necessities for her and her son. In any other circumstance, she would be able to sue the liable party for damages by invoking premises liability laws.

However, conventional liability rules do not apply in this particular case, and thus Carpenter has no choice but to rely on her own finances or charity from others – all thanks to a roughly century-old legal principle known as the Baseball Rule.

According to this rule, stadium owners and operators are not liable for injuries caused by stray balls or pieces of bat, so long as protected seats are provided for a reasonable number of spectators. In other words, the onus is on the fans to watch out for their own safety. There is even usually a disclaimer on the back of ticket stubs that states this in some capacity: Ticket holder assumes all risks incident to the game or related events …

Proponents of the Baseball Rule believe that injury is just part of the game, an unavoidable risk that comes with the enjoyment. After all, they say, it’s absolutely worth it to be able to sit closer to the field, hear the crack of the bat, watch a baseman dive in a heart-rending play, and generally feel like you’re part of the game.

However, those calling for reform say that the game has changed substantially since the Baseball Rule was instituted. In the early days, baseball was played at a much slower pace and the bats were made of light ash, not the denser and heavier maple. Now, thrown or batted balls and fragments of bat fly through the air at higher velocities and with greater force, putting fans at higher risk of serious injury.

Even though multiple spectator injuries are reported every year, it is highly unlikely that the Baseball Rule, a national concept upheld by most states, will be thrown out anytime soon. However, as more and more fans, attorneys, and legislators challenge the Rule, we may see a momentous legal battle over this issue in the foreseeable future.

Whichever side of this argument you fall on, the premises liability attorneys at Wilshire Law Firm hope you stay safe at every game!

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