The following article is a guest contribution by Benjamin Haynes, Esq. Haynes is a former Division 1 Basketball Player at Oral Roberts University and currently practices law in the State of Florida.
Forty-five year old Elizabeth Lloyd is seeking $500,000 in damages against a thirteen year old boy, Matthew Migliaccio, for hitting her in the face with a baseball during a little league game. Apparently Matthew, who was eleven years old at the time, was in the bullpen playing catcher and warming up his team’s pitcher when he overthrew the baseball hitting Lloyd in the face while she was sitting at a picnic table. The impact of the baseball to Lloyd’s face caused multiple fractures. Lloyd is alleging that Matthew threw the ball at her face on purpose, while Matthew is alleging that it was an accident. Further, Lloyd’s husband has filed a lawsuit against Matthew claiming that the injury to his wife’s face has caused him the pain of losing the “services, society and consortium” of his wife.
Legally speaking, the general rule at a baseball game is that a spectator cannot recover for ordinary risks inherent in the sport. One of the main cases on this issue is the Schentzel v. Philadelphia National League Club case, where a lady was hit by a foul ball while attending a baseball game in Philadelphia. Schentzel v. Philadelphia National League Club, 173 Pa.Super. 179, 96 A.2d 181 (1953). Her argument was that the defendant owed her a legal duty to extend the screen protection to protect everyone. Id. The court found this was not a feasible option, and decided that stray balls were a matter of common everyday practical knowledge, even though the plaintiff had never been to a baseball game. Id. Further, the court found that the plaintiff had impliedly assumed the normal and ordinary risk incident to attendance at a baseball game. Id. As long as the risks were ordinary, the mere fact that the lady showed up to the game showed that she had assumed the risk. Id.
Further case law narrows in on this issue, specifically Clark v. Goshen Sunday Morning Softball League, where a father had brought his young son to a softball game. Clark v. Goshen Sunday Morning Softball League, 129 Misc.2d 401, 493 N.Y.S.2d 262 (Sup. 1985). During the pregame practice, the son was struck by a warm-up pitch. Id. The court found that the father was a spectator as a matter of law and neither the league nor the player who threw the pitch had a duty to warn him of the danger. Id.
It seems from the above referenced case law that no spectator will be able to recover at a baseball game. However, in Larkin v. United States of America, a softball player threw a baseball bat out of frustration from losing the game. Larkin v. United States of America, 2002 WL 31553993 (E.D.La.2002). The bat struck the plaintiff even after penetrating through a chain link fence. Id. The Court held for the plaintiff in this case because the plaintiff did not assume this type of risk on as a spectator. Id.
Therefore, certain incidents are inherent to the game of baseball. Foul balls, overthrown balls, and even sometimes bats slipping out of a batter’s hand are going to occur, and are deemed inherent in this game. When these things occur, neither the player nor the league will be found liable in such a situation because the spectator is inevitably assuming the risk of these events potentially occurring. However, not all action on a baseball field is protected through this “inherent risk of the game” defense, as we found out in the Larkin case. If a player, out of frustration or mere stupidity, steps outside of the scope of the game of baseball, liability on behalf of the league and player could incur.
In this instant situation, the young baseball player, Matthew, claims that he was just warming up the pitcher in the bullpen. Overthrown balls are inherent to the game of baseball. Even on a professional level, baseballs are thrown into the stands on a routine basis. In an eleven year old little league atmosphere it is generally known that these players are much less talented and experienced and will often overthrow their target. Therefore, unless Lloyd can show that Matthew intentionally threw the ball at her face, she is most likely not going to recover from Matthew.
However, maybe Lloyd should turn her focus on a different party. In Jones v. Three Rivers Management Corporation, the court held that this inherent aspect of the game rule only applies to expected risks of the game. Jones v. Three Rivers Management Corporation, 483 Pa. 75, 394 A.2d 546 (1978). The court further reasoned that the no-duty rule in no way affects the duty of a sports facility to protect spectators from foreseeably dangerous conditions which are not inherent to the activity. Id. The facts in Jones are as follows, a spectator was injured while she was hit by a foul ball while she was standing in the interior walkway of a stadium concourse. Id. The court held that a concourse opening is simply not a part of the spectator sport of baseball and therefore the plaintiff was not barred from recovery.
Applying the Jones holding to the Lloyd case, if Lloyd was able to show that the picnic table where she was sitting was not a part of the spectator sport of baseball, then there is a chance of Lloyd recovering from the management company of the ball park. Lloyd could further argue that while it is her duty to be aware of foul balls and over thrown baseballs in play of the baseball game itself, having to stay aware of baseballs being thrown from the bullpen is not a part of the spectator sport.
In conclusion, it seems Lloyd would have a better chance in a lawsuit against the management company of the ballparks, rather than she would against the eleven year old Matthew himself.