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Thursday, March 07, 2013
Idaho Rejects the "Baseball Rule"

In an under-the-radar opinion issued last month, the Idaho Supreme Court allowed a fan injured by a foul ball at a minor league baseball game to proceed with a negligence suit against the franchise.  Specifically, the court refused to adopt what it called the "Baseball Rule," in which most courts have held that baseball teams are generally not legally liable to fans for injuries caused by foul balls hit into the stands, so long as they have provided protective netting for the most dangerous seats in the stadium (i.e., those immediately behind and around home plate).  Click here for Sports Law Blog's prior coverage of this topic.

The court's opinion - available here - indicates that the plaintiff, Bud Rountree, was hit by a ball while standing in the Class-A Boise Hawks' "Executive Club," apparently the only area in the stadium that is not covered by protective netting (Rountree ended up losing an eye as a result of the injury).  In light of the area of the stadium in which the injury occurred, along with the fact that the team went to greater than normal lengths to protect most of the stadium from foul balls (pictured), Rountree's case may be stronger case than that of the typical fan hit by a foul ball in unprotected seating.  Indeed, his attorneys apparently argued to the Idaho Supreme Court that while the so-called "Baseball Rule" may be justified in normal bleacher settings, it was not appropriate for multi-purpose areas of the ballpark (such as in-stadium, sit-down restaurant seating). 

Whether the opinion will have a broader impact on baseball teams outside of Idaho remains to be seen, but given the number of jurisdictions that have adopted the majority rule it is unlikely that this latest decision will have a significant impact nationwide.


I wonder if baseball could eliminate all its liability by completely removing the screening at stadiums. This ruling seems to say the team protected some fans, so it has to protect all fans. Is that correct?

Blogger Doug Sligh -- 3/08/2013 7:43 AM  

To be clear, the Idaho court did not base its decision on the fact that the Boise Hawks provided extensive protective netting. The court merely held that the plaintiff could proceed with his suit. In other words, the court rejected the doctrine generally holding that baseball teams are not liable for foul ball-related injuries.

Most courts adopting the so-called "Baseball Rule" have nevertheless said (or implied) that even if teams are not generally liable, they must nevertheless provide some protective netting in the most dangerous seating areas. So I don't think that removing all netting would be a good idea.

In this case, though, the extensive netting could potentially strengthen Rountree's case. On the other hand, that netting has surely prevented a number of other potential injuries, so on the whole it may still be a net positive for the Hawks franchise.

Blogger Nathaniel Grow -- 3/08/2013 10:32 AM  

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