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My last blog was sports-related and I’m sticking with that.  Over the weekend, at Fenway Park in Boston, a woman named Tonya Carpenter was struck in the head by part of a broken baseball bat belonging to Brett Lawrie of the Oakland Athletics.  She was taken to the hospital with “life threatening” injuries.  Her condition has since improved from “serious” to “fair” and she is “responsive.”

As a personal injury lawyer, of course, one wonders: “Does she have a case?”  I’ve already read the articles such as this one saying she’s out of luck. That appears based upon the decades old precedent known as the “baseball rule”.

The New Jersey Supreme Court several years ago seemed to soften slightly the impact of the so-called “baseball rule,” at least in areas of a stadium outside “the stands.”   In Maisonave v. The Newark Bears Professional Baseball Club, Inc., 185 N.J. 70 (2005), the Court held that while “the limited duty rule,” which restricts the tort liability of owners, applies in situations where an injury occurs in the stands, traditional negligence principles apply in all other areas of the stadium. The question addressed in Maisonave concerning the scope of the duty that the owners and operators of baseball stadiums owe their patrons was one of first impression for the New Jersey Supreme Court in 2005.  The Court noted that about one-half of the states had previously addressed this issue and that eleven of those jurisdictions have adopted the “limited duty” or “baseball” rule. Some states have not applied the rule and instead have adopted baseball-specific statutes. Finally, some courts have applied traditional negligence principles, such as the business invitee rule or comparative negligence.   Citing cases as old as 1913, the Court explained that “[t]he limited duty rule is a specialized negligence standard that has protected stadium owners and operators since the early days of modern baseball.”  The New Jersey legislature was quickly prompted to act and passed a  bill, the oddly-named New Jersey Baseball Spectator Safety Act of 2006, N.J.S.A. 2A:53A–43 to –48, providing that the assumption of risk shall be a complete bar to suit and serve as a complete defense to a suit against an owner by a spectator with certain stated exceptions.  The inherent risks of observing a professional baseball game are defined as injuries that result from being struck by a baseball or baseball bat while anywhere on the premises during a professional baseball game.  The legislation also provided that the immunity from liability established under the bill does not prevent or limit the liability of an owner who fails to provide protection for spectators in the most dangerous sections of the stands and that this duty may be satisfied by having a net behind home plate.  Further this law does not “prevent or limit the liability of an owner who fails to post and maintain the [required] warning signs.”  The statute requires that those warning signs state:
WARNING

UNDER NEW JERSEY LAW, A SPECTATOR OF PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL ASSUMES THE RISK OF ANY INJURY TO PERSON OR PROPERTY RESULTING FROM ANY OF THE INHERENT DANGERS AND RISKS OF SUCH ACTIVITY AND MAY NOT RECOVER FROM AN OWNER OF A BASEBALL TEAM OR AN OWNER OF A STADIUM WHERE PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL IS PLAYED FOR INJURY RESULTING FROM THE INHERENT DANGERS AND RISKS OF OBSERVING PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL, INCLUDING BEING STRUCK BY A BASEBALL OR A BASEBALL BAT ANYWHERE ON THE PREMISES DURING A PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL GAME.

It does not appear that Massachusetts’ court of last resort has addressed this issue since the abolition of the defense of assumption of the risk in that state, so perhaps there is hope for Ms. Carpenter yet.  Perhaps not.  In  Costa v. Boston Red Sox Baseball Club, 61 Mass.App.Ct. 299, 809 N.E.2d 1090 (Mass. Ct. App. 2004), a woman at a Sawx game was struck in the face by a foul ball and brought suit.  The trial court granted the team’s motion for summary judgment.  An appellate court affirmed holding that:

“[W]e are persuaded that the potential for a foul ball to enter the stands and injure a spectator who is seated in an unscreened area is, as matter of law, sufficiently obvious that the defendant reasonably could conclude that a person of ordinary intelligence would perceive the risk and need no additional warning.  Even someone of limited personal experience with the sport of baseball reasonably may be assumed to know that a central feature of the game is that batters will forcefully hit balls that may go astray from their intended direction. We therefore hold that the defendant had no duty to warn the plaintiff of the obvious danger of a foul ball being hit into the stands.”  

Costa v. Boston Red Sox Baseball Club, 61 Mass.App.Ct. 299, 303, 809 N.E.2d 1090, 1093 (Mass. Ct. App. 2004).

Thus, the Massachusetts appellate court found that, quite apart from any assumption of risk, the Red Sox did not owe their patron and fan any duty.  Despite so holding, though, the Massachusetts court scolded Major League Baseball for its “cavalier” comment in its amicus brief that those concerned about getting hurt at games could just stay home. The court suggested, instead, that “[p]erhaps a more gracious approach would be for major league baseball to elect to internalize the costs of unavoidable injuries sustained by fans through no fault of their own.”  On that much, at least, I agree with the Costapanel.

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Have you been injured in an accident either at work or anywhere else? If so, call us at JOWORISAK & ASSOCIATES.  When you contact our office, we will immediately set up a free, confidential appointment where you will meet an attorney who will listen to you and evaluate your case.  We have conveniently located offices in Perth Amboy, New Brunswick, Jersey City, Roselle and East Orange. We understand traumatic brain injuries, neck injuries, back injuries and other medical problems caused by workplace accidents and the problems that they can cause in your daily life.  Our law firm will always work to make sure you are compensated fairly and get medical treatment.

Whether you were a pedestrian, a bicyclist, or the occupant of car, motorcycle, boat or have been hurt at an amusement park or  injured in any kind of accident at work or elsewhere, you should immediately call one of the experienced personal injury or workers’ compensation attorneys at JOWORISAK & ASSOCIATES at (732) 442-5900 during regular business hours or 1-800-RITELAW (800-748-3529) toll free.  You can even call either number on weekends or after regular business hours. We have offices in  in Middlesex, Union, Essex and Hudson counties.

– Karim

Experienced lawyers in our offices in Perth Amboy, Jersey City, Roselle, East Orange, New Brunswick are ready to help you.

If you need personal injury lawyer, car accident lawyer, bus accident lawyer, slip and fall lawyer or workers’ compensation attorney, please feel free to contact us.

The attorneys at CourtLaw handle:

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