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Spring Training Is Here Spectators Beware!

Chandler, AZ – It’s that time of year again in Arizona when baseball fans around the country come to the Valley to enjoy the warm weather, clear skies and America’s Pastime.  With a wide variety of teams and facilities throughout the Phoenix Metro area, the Cactus League has become a baseball fan’s oasis.

Spring training baseball allows for close fan interaction with players and more importantly an intimate setting for fans to view their favorite Major League players from a vantage point most seldom get the chance to enjoy.  The close seating and intimate setting of Spring Training baseball, however does increase the danger of personal injuries from objects leaving the field of play.

It is well settled law in most jurisdictions under the so called “Baseball Rule” that baseball stadium owners are insulated from and have limited liability for injuries caused by objects leaving the field of play.  In Arizona, the “Baseball Rule” has been added to the statutory scheme under Arizona Revised Statutes Section 12-554.

Under A.R.S § 12-554 a baseball stadium owner is not liable to injured spectators for injuries caused by objects used by players which leave the field.  The moratorium on liability is broad in nature and may only be overcome if the owner, “does not provide protective seating reasonably sufficient to satisfy expected requests” or “intentionally injures a spectator”.  Under the statutory language there are two main issues, 1) who is an “owner” and “spectator”; and 2) what protection is reasonably sufficient to satisfy requests.

The first of these questions, who is an owner, is easily answered trough the language of the statute. In Section F(2), an owner is defined as, “ a person, city, town, county, special district, limited liability company, school district, community college district, college or university that is in lawful possession and control of a baseball team or facility in which baseball games are played. Owner includes an employee or agent of the owner.” A.R.S §12-554 F(2). Essentially the statue is drafted to include the commonly understood definition of owner, but also extend to those persons employed by the owner of the facility as well.

A spectator for purposes of the statue includes, “person who is present at a baseball game for the purpose of observing the game, whether or not the person pays an admission fee or is compensated to observe the game. A.R.S §12-554 F(4).  Additionally, the statute applies to all persons attending the game with the intent of watching action on the field.   There is some room for argument in the definition of a spectator regarding presence and “observing” the game.  There is scarce case law on the issue of what exactly qualifies as “observing the game,” however in reality the vast majority of individuals would be attending the game as a spectator to observe the game, so most individuals will fall under the statute’s reach, but there are always exceptional cases.

The second question pertaining to the reasonableness of protection is the most seminal or important in terms of identifying if liability exists. Essentially the court in Bellezzo v. State of Arizona, 174 Ariz. 548., held similarly with the majority rule that, “the owner must screen the most dangerous section of the field–the area behind home plate–and the screening that is provided must be sufficient for those spectators who may be reasonably anticipated to desire protected seats on an ordinary occasion.” Bellezzo, 174 Ariz. 548 at 552.  The court concluded and agreed with the majority that the areas to be protected and therefore which must provide reasonable protection are those areas around home plate.  The court did not extend the necessity of protection to other sections of the field or stands further stating, “We decline to make proprietors of baseball stadiums insurers against the ordinary risk a spectator seated in an unscreened area of the baseball stadium may be struck by a ball. Rather, we impose upon them the usual duty to act with reasonable care to protect against foreseeable, unreasonable risks. Id. At 554.  The court in Bellezzo has made it the responsibility of owners of baseball facility to provide reasonable, screened protection for the areas around home plate, but does not extend such responsibility to areas outside the sections near home plate.

 

So, what does this mean if you are a spectator at a Spring Training game?  Three conclusions can be made:

 

1) If you ARE NOT seated behind the home plate section of the field, HEADS UP!  You are likely not going to succeed in a suit against the owner of the baseball facility to recover for your injuries if struck by an object leaving the field of play;

 

2) If you ARE seated behind the home plate portion of the ballpark and are injured by an object, then it must be investigated to determine if there was some unreasonable condition with the netting, lack of netting or unreasonable maintenance of the netting which lead to your injury, in order to have a potentially successful case; and

 

3) Regardless of your seating position, if there is an intentional act on the part of an employee of the stadium owner and an object leaves the field of play injuring you, the Baseball Rule does not apply; however the employee must have the Intent to Injure when causing the object to leave the field of play, a mere ballplayer tossing a ball into the stands as a souvenir will likely not give rise to a successful case.

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