The “Baseball Rule” and Ticket Disclaimers

When something goes wrong, your salvation will come from doing the right thing and documenting it clearly, not in old-time laws that place all the blame on some other guy.

Steven A. Adelman

Although I am a lousy baseball player, I have always been a baseball fan. As a kid, I loved listening to the radio broadcasters wax eloquent on warm summer nights. Now I enjoy that baseball cases validate what I teach at Facility Management Law School and in my other risk management presentations.

Recently, the Idaho Supreme Court issued an important ruling not only for the future of the “Baseball Rule,” but also for the enforceability of disclaimer language on the back of event tickets. To add a little law to your Opening Day festivities, here is the story.

FACTS

In Rountree v. Boise Baseball, LLC, et al., a man sued a baseball stadium operator and 16 other defendants when he was struck by a foul ball and lost an eye while he sat in one of the few parts of the ballpark not protected by vertical netting.

The back of his ticket included this language: “THE HOLDER ASSUMES ALL RISK AND DANGERS INCIDENTAL TO THE GAME OF BASEBALL INCLUDING SPECIFICALLY (BUT NOT EXCLUSIVELY) THE DANGER OF BEING INJURED BY THROWN OR BATTED BALLS.” Mr. Rountree said he never read it.

LEGAL ISSUES

The Idaho Court held that the Baseball Rule, which limits stadium owners and operators’ legal duty to fans hit by foul balls, so long as screened seats are available for as many spectators as may be reasonably expected to request them on any ordinary occasion, does not bar Mr. Rountree from arguing that the venue failed to behave reasonably in his particular case.

The idea behind the Rule is that it is common knowledge that baseballs are hard, move fast, and travel beyond the playing field, so venues completely extinguish their legal liability so long as they provide fans who choose not to pay attention with enough screened areas to sit in the grandstand.

Here, however, the Court wrote that the litigants had presented evidence of so few instances of similar injuries that it could not draw a bright line where the stadium’s duty begins or where netting should be placed. So the Court left it to a jury to decide the reasonableness of each party based on the facts to be presented at trial.

Regarding the ticket disclaimer language, the Court refused to enforce it as a contract against Mr. Rountree, even though it does have all three elements of a valid contract: offer, acceptance, and consideration. Instead, consistent with courts’ general disfavor of “contracts of adhesion,” the Idaho Court decided that the jury should consider the ticket language when deciding what percentage of Mr. Rountree’s injuries are his own fault.

CONCLUSIONS

This case illustrates the legal trend away from bright-line tests in favor of allowing juries to weigh all of the evidence in order to assign percentages of comparative fault. This is why I emphasize the importance of acting like a “reasonable person under the same or similar circumstances.” When something goes wrong, your salvation will come from doing the right thing and documenting it clearly, not in old time laws that place all the blame on some other guy.

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