At a recent Red Sox game, a spectator was hit with a piece of a broken bat which resulted in a hospital visit and ten stiches. While seemingly rare, there are more instances like these than one might think. A Bloomberg study found that roughly 1,750 fans are injured by batted balls and bats every year at MLB games. Most injuries are minor, but occasionally they are serious.
An owner or operator of the ballpark generally has a duty to use reasonable care to protect the spectator from harm. Thus, it is possible for an owner to be held legally responsible for injuries to a spectator caused by a ball or bat.
States vary on what a ballpark must do to protect fans, but most states are only required to screen the most dangerous portion of the ballpark, usually the area behind home plate. Other states require ballparks to provide enough screened seating for all those who want to sit behind protection.
A large number of courts have adopted the “baseball rule” to protect owners and operators. According to the “baseball rule” ballpark owners are not liable for injuries to a spectator hit by a ball or bat if there was a properly screened area available for spectators and the injured fan choose not to sit there. Courts also generally consider fans to have assumed the risk of batted balls, or bats flying into the stands because spectators are aware those things can occur due to the nature of the sport.
When you’re at your baseball game, keep aware what is happening in the game, especially if you are close to the field. Or, if you don’t want to worry about foul balls and flying bats, pick a seat behind the netting.