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Head’s Up (Sox Fans)

Posted October 26, 2018

[Editor’s Note: Just in time for Game 3 of the World Series, Law Clerk Abbie Rosen educates us on a baseball team’s liability when a fan is hit by a foul ball.  Jon Karon]

By Abbie Rosen

Boston is a very superstitious place, particularly when it comes to our sports teams. Don’t you dare shave your beard during the Bruins playoffs, and that lucky Patriots jersey is only washed once a year (after the season’s over and at the complaint and request of everyone around you). So, it makes me a little weary when the Red Sox are up two games (of two) in the World Series and there’s chatter they’re going to sweep the series. Therefore, we’re going to try and rebut some of that optimism by looking at what happens when a foul ball (or bat) hits an unsuspecting fan in Fenway Park.

According to a Boston Globe article from a few years ago, foul balls and broken bats hurt fans every three to four games at Fenway Park. Their article also references Bloomberg, who reported in 2014 that an average of 1,750 people are injured by rogue baseballs at MLB games each year. While most of these injuries are minor, there have been several law suits filed on behalf of injured fans in the Boston area.

In a recent case, CBS Boston reported that the injured party, Ms. Taubin, was sitting in a seat that was ordinarily protected by glass. However, the glass had been removed during renovations and she was hit in the face by one of Papi’s foul balls. Ms. Taubin alleged facial fractures and neurological damage in her $9.5 million-dollar suit. The jury decided, as is frequently the outcome in foul ball cases, the Sox were not negligent.

Ms. Taubin’s case seems oddly close to a case in 2003. A woman sitting on the first base line behind the Sox dugout was hit in the face by a line drive. When she sued the Sox alleging they negligently failed to warn her of the danger of foul balls, her case was dismissed. The Massachusetts Appeals Court determined that the case was properly dismissed, stating “the potential for a foul ball to enter the stands and injure a spectator who is seated in an unscreened area is, as a matter of law, sufficiently obvious that the defendant reasonably could conclude that a person of ordinary intelligence would perceive the risk and need no additional warning.” Costa v. Boston Red Sox Baseball Club, 61 Mass. App. Ct. 299 (2003).

It seems very rare that anyone recovers damages from a foul ball or broken bat at a baseball game. In my research, I found two such instances.  Both were children at the time of their injury. According to the Chicago Tribune, a 10-year-old boy who was hit in the eye by a foul ball while watching a Cubs game in the 1980s was awarded $67,500 for the damage done to his eye socket. The second that I found was much more recent. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the suit was filed by the father of a 6-year-old girl whose skull was fractured by a foul ball at a Braves game, leaving her with a traumatic brain injury. This case was, according to the article, settled for an unknown amount in 2017.


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