Unwanted Souvenir – Woman Struck by Foul Ball During MLB Batting Practice; Claim Barred (WA)


Reed-Jennings v. Baseball Club of Seattle, L.P. (Washington)
(unreported decision)

The plaintiff was seriously injured while attending a Seattle Mariners Major League Baseball game.  She was struck by a foul ball hit into the stands during batting practice.  Plaintiff filed a negligence based lawsuit against the team, but the trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the team did not breach its limited duty of care to the plaintiff and that the plaintiff’s claims were barred by the assumption of risk doctrine.  Plaintiff appealed.

The Court of Appeal of Washington explained that the “limited duty rule” in baseball is followed in Washington state, and it places two requirements on baseball stadium operators:

“First, baseball stadium operators must provide a sufficient number of protected seating for those spectators ‘who may be reasonably anticipated to desire protected seats on an ordinary occasion.’ (Citation omitted.)  Second, baseball stadium operators must ‘provide protection for all spectators located in the most dangerous parts of the stadium, that is, those areas that pose an unduly high risk of injury from foul balls (such as directly behind home plate).’”

The Court noted that the defendant had satisfied both of its obligations under the rule.  The temporary safety screens used during batting practice did not deviate from the screening customarily used at other baseball stadiums.  The record also revealed a very low risk of injury in the section where the plaintiff was located.  Therefore, “because the Mariners satisfied its duty of screening a reasonable number of seats, [plaintiff] chose not to sit in those screened seats, and the seats [plaintiff] chose did not pose an unduly high risk of injury from foul balls,” the Court concluded that plaintiff failed to demonstrate any breach of duty regarding the injury.

Regardless, the Court stated that even if the “limited duty rule” had not applied, the plaintiff’s claim would have been barred by the doctrine of implied primary assumption of risk.  Plaintiff argued that she did not “she did not fully subjectively understand the specific risk that she could be hit and injured by a foul ball sitting in an unscreened seat during batting practice when multiple batted balls are simultaneously in play.”  As such, she contended that she did not voluntarily choose to encounter the specific risk that caused her injury.  However, the Court disagreed, finding that the record supported that the plaintiff “had a full subjective understanding of the specific risk, both in nature and presence.”  Plaintiff was very familiar with baseball and had sat in the same location of the stadium on several occasions.  Additionally, plaintiff was aware that another foul ball had landed in the same section just before the one that struck her.  There was nothing in the record to indicate that batting practice was conducted in an irregular manner or that there was an unusual danger.

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