It’s summertime, and we are right in the middle of baseball season. The Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game just took place, and the second half of the MLB season will kick off tonight with some teams thinking about a pennant and others weighing their options for next year. Behind the scenes, however, a movement has begun to drastically alter the way that we watch baseball from the stands. My colleague, Brian Dever, recently wrote a blog on the Baseball Rule, which states that stadium owners are generally not liable for injuries caused by balls and bats flying into the stands and hitting spectators. Instead, the onus is on the fans to be alert during the game. But this rule may now have to withstand a new challenge in federal court. A San Francisco woman has brought a federal class-action lawsuit against Major League Baseball and its commissioner, Rob Manfred. The lawsuit is not asking for money, but instead only seeks to have protective netting to be extended from foul pole to foul pole. Currently, the protective netting is only required in certain sections behind home plate. The lawsuit claims that the protection afforded to those behind the home plate should also be given to fans along the first and third baselines. The lead Plaintiff alleges that she, a longtime Giants fan, is fearful to go to the park because of foul balls. Interestingly enough, she states that the unprotected seats along the baselines are cheaper than the protected seats behind the plate, implying that some fans are given the choice to pay for greater safety. Please check out the ESPN article and the NBC Sports article on the lawsuit.
Simply from a legal standpoint, this is a very interesting issue. As Attorney Dever’s post details, the courts have long held that there are some ‘danger zones’ in MLB stadiums that are required to have some sort of netting to protect fans. This is why the net is behind home plate (it’s also the reasoning that requires netting around shooting areas of hockey rinks). The court has also held that outside of this ‘danger zone,’ the stadium does not owe any duty to protect. So instead of pursuing the claim under a theory that has been rejected by courts for decades, the new lawsuit instead seeks to expand the ‘danger zone’ where the duty does exist. Only time will tell whether this action will be successful.