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Assumption of Risk at a Sporting Event

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Image via Wikipedia"]1989 Boston Red Sox baseball game at Fenway Park[/caption]

Attending a sporting event with your family is generally a rewarding experience. Fans flock to ballparks, stadiums, basketball arenas and hockey rinks throughout the year to enjoy their favorite sports teams battle it out. Did you ever wonder if you were safe?

Sports owners have increasingly modified sporting venues in an attempt to make the spectator feel like they are more involved in the game, but some of these changes may be dangerous. In baseball, it is now required that ballparks have netting behind home plate to protect spectators. As expected, many fan’s reception to these measures have been lukewarm, especially when it has made the game more difficult to see.

Should the owners be concerned about the safety of spectators? If you have attended a baseball game, you know it is not uncommon for balls to be hit or thrown at 120 miles per hour into the stands. Flying bats may also be a problem if hitters lose control and launch them into the stands.

One recently published study by Milsten estimates there are 35.1 injuries per every million spectator who attend Major League Baseball games. The article concluded that flying baseballs are the most common risk, with injuries occurring most frequently down the 1st or 3rd base lines, or directly behind home plate. Spectators most frequently suffer facial or head trauma from the impact of the baseball.

What if you are hit by a fly ball, can you sue the ball club? Recently a Massachusetts woman tried to collect damages from injuries sustained from a foul ball at the Boston Red Sox game, but the court ruled that she should have known the potential risks. The court struck down her argument claiming that most people of sufficient intelligence would understand the danger at a game and the dangers should have been sufficiently obvious to her.

The Boston Court wrote that fans "are left to bear the costs of their injuries, even though they played no role in causing them, except by choosing to attend the game." The argument against the fan was she should not have needed any type of additional warning but should have understood the risks she was taking by attending the game.

Other cases for injury sustained at a ballpark have been more successful. A New Jersey court awarded damages to a man who was injured by a ball while getting concessions at a minor league game, claiming that he had no expectation of danger in the concession line.

Historically, courts have operated under the premise that the spectator “assumes the risk” of attending a baseball game, in fact, many sporting tickets have a warning declaring that there are inherent dangers in attending the game. As mentioned above, the court will analyze several factors prior to awarding damages such as the proximity of the spectator to the playing field, whether they have previously attended a sporting event at the venue and whether the game was in progress.

Traditionally, if the spectator was in their seat and the game is in progress, the court has used the argument of “assumption of risk” and has not awarded the plaintiff damages. Some exceptions have been made by the courts if the following situation has occurred: “(1) the person is situated behind a screen, backstop, or similar device is defective (in a manner other than width or height) because of the negligence of the owner or operator of the baseball facility: or (2) the injury is caused by willful and wanton conduct, in connection with the game of baseball, of the owner or operator or any baseball player, coach or manager employed by the coach or operator.”

Spectator injuries at games are not common, but spectators must be aware of their surroundings. Hockey pucks can fly out of ice rinks, NBA players can fly into the stadium seats, and fly balls can circumvent even the best netting.

Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer

If you are one of the more than 15 million Americans attend sporting events each year, you must be aware of the inherent dangers and not make the false assumption that the owner or operator of the sports venue is ensuring your safety. If you are injured by the negligent actions of another person or by the players, contact a personal injury lawyer. They can review your claim and determine if you have a personal injury case.

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