Assumption of Risk at the Ballpark

If you were injured on an outing or during a recreational activity, you might wonder whether you are eligible for compensation or if compensation can be denied because you “assumed the risk.” North Carolina allows assumption of risk as a defense to a personal injury claim if the defendant can prove two elements: (1) the injured plaintiff had actual or constructive knowledge of the risk, and (2) the plaintiff consented to assume that risk. However, a defendant cannot assert an assumption of risk defense in situations where there is no contractual relationship between the parties. Here is an example to illustrate how assumption of risk works.

You buy a ticket to a baseball game and sit in the fifth row of the infield box seats. In the third inning, a batter strokes a line drive foul. The ball hits you on the side of the face, shattering your cheekbone and damaging your vision. Can you sue the batter? The ball club? The stadium? Historically, the answer has been no, because (1) as a baseball fan, you know that balls, and bats, too, are likely to fly into the stands, especially on the field level, and (2) by purchasing your ticket, you formed a contractual relationship with the baseball club. To see your contract, look at the back of your ticket. There is probably a disclaimer, saying you agree to waive all rights for injuries “incidental to the game of baseball.”

But what if you’re a visiting exchange student from a foreign country where baseball is not played. So, you don’t know that balls can fly into the stands at high speeds, or even that the game uses a hard ball capable of breaking bones. Unfortunately, courts have been very kind to baseball over the years, and it’s likely the court would rule that you had “constructive” knowledge. That means that simply from observing the tools of the game and your proximity to the field, you should have been put on notice that a dangerous situation might arise.

To prevail in a ballpark injury case, you would have to prove that your personal injury did not result from actions “incidental to the game,” but rather resulted from negligent, reckless or deliberate conduct. For example, if a ballplayer became enraged at a call and threw his bat into the stands, fans who were injured would have a right to sue. Also, if the stadium’s safety precautions were substantially below the standards for similar ballparks, you might have a case for negligence. In a case that’s being litigated right now, a fan is suing the New York Yankees for negligence, alleging their policy of allowing fans to use umbrellas in the stands on rainy days led to his injury. According to the plaintiff, a fan’s umbrella obscured his view of home plate, so he couldn’t see the line drive foul in time to avoid being hit in the face. The fact that other teams do not allow umbrellas to be opened during play may help the plaintiff’s case, but the court might also find that the prohibition is not so widespread in Major League Baseball to be considered an industry standard.

If you’re wondering whether the assumption of risk doctrine might prevent you from claiming compensation for an injury, talk to a knowledgeable attorney at Lanier Law Group, P.A. Call us today at 919.848.2000 to schedule a free consultation. 


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