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No Duty to Spectators in Pennsylvania Baseball Injury Case

A Pennsylvania court recently ruled that a baseball league owes no duty to spectators for injuries arising out of the inherent risks of baseball in a non-precedential decision. The case arose when a husband and wife were spectators at their son’s little league game held by a baseball academy. Although it is non-precedential, a number of Pennsylvania cases supported the ruling and it is likely a trial court would rule similarly in the future.

There were no bleachers for spectators to sit at the little league game. During warm-ups, the wife was sitting on a blanket behind the first base line. A baseball hit the right side of her face and seriously hurt her.

The couple filed a premises liability lawsuit against the baseball academy and the team. They alleged the defendants failed to cordon off a spectator area and failed to take precautions to protect spectators including failing to inspect the field layout. They filed for damages including a loss of consortium claim by the husband.

The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. They argued that they had no liability under the “no duty rule” which applies when spectators are injured by inherent risks of the game. They argued they owed no duty to warn or protect the wife against a risk that was inherent and frequent in baseball.

The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendants. The plaintiffs appealed. They asked the appellate court to overturn the “no duty rule” in the context of a spectator who was not participating. They argued that the wife had simply set up a blanket among the other spectators and had ben there for just minutes before getting hit in the face with a baseball. They pointed to the defendants’ deposition testimony that stated they didn’t even consider spectator safety.

The court explained that in negligence cases a plaintiff must establish duty, breach, causation, and damages. Traditionally in Pennsylvania, an operator of a place of amusement cannot insure his patrons’ safety. Patrons in such cases can only recover where an operator fails to exercise reasonable care in constructing, maintaining and managing a facility. No duty is owed to protect a patron from injuries that result from common and expected risks. While the doctrine of “assumption of the risk” has been mostly abolished in Pennsylvania, the no-duty rule remains.

In support of its decision, the court referenced an earlier case where a plaintiff when to a Phillies game and was injured when a ball was thrown into the stands. The court in that case had granted summary judgment and the appellate court affirmed, observing that a spectator at a Pennsylvania baseball game assumes the risk of being hit by foul balls, batted balls and even bats.

The issue is not whether the rulebook sanctions a particular course of conduct in baseball, but what is an everyday happening that occurs in baseball. Both outfielders and infielders routinely throw balls to fans. Similarly, in another case, a plaintiff was hit by a batted ball at a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game. There, too, the no duty rule applied. The court in that case had found that the reality of foul balls was of everyday knowledge and all individuals were deemed familiar with it.

The plaintiffs in this case argued that their case was different because it was a little league game. However, the lower court had noted the record did not include evidence that sitting in the lawn in this case was different from what customarily happened at other little league games. In baseball, generally, a spectator knowingly exposes herself to reasonable risks inherent to baseball. The plaintiffs had not produced any liability experts or records to counter the court’s perception of the general risk inherent to baseball. The summary judgment was affirmed.

Although the plaintiffs in this case did not recover, an experienced Pennsylvania personal injury attorney can evaluate the facts of your particular case if you are injured on somebody else’s property and bring a lawsuit on your behalf if appropriate. Contact the attorneys at Needle Law Firm at 570-344-1266 or via our online form for a free consultation.

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