Who is Responsible for Fan Safety at Baseball Games?

by Terry Bryant

Last July, a 62-year-old woman, Patricia Dowdell, went to Oriole Park at Camden Yards to watch the Baltimore Orioles host the Cleveland Indians. When Orioles’ first baseman Chris Davis took the plate, Dowdell had no way of knowing that her life was about to dramatically change for the worse.

While swinging at a pitch, Davis lost control of his bat, which went flying into the stands and struck Dowdell in the head. She suffered skull and orbital fractures and brain swelling, requiring screws in her cheek and four plates to hold her left eye in place, as reported in the Baltimore Sun. In March of 2017, Dowdell filed a lawsuit against Major League Baseball (“MLB”) and the Orioles, alleging negligence on behalf of both parties.

Dowdell’s incident is alarming, but it’s not as rare as you might think. In 2014, Bloomberg News reported that 1,750 spectators at Major League Baseball games are struck by balls propelling off a player’s bat. Flying baseball bats don’t cause as many injuries as errant balls, though it is also a relatively common occurrence at these games.

Who is Responsible for Fan Injuries at Stadiums?

There are many parties responsible for ensuring fan safety at sporting events. The owners of the premises are responsible for making sure that the area is safe from fall risks or other potential hazards. The security teams that oversee these events have a responsibility to protect event-goers from violence. The organization hosting the event must also protect people from harm.

In the context of a baseball game, individual teams are charged with ensuring that there is adequate netting to protect fans from flying objects. The MLB offers guidelines and recommendations to their teams, but the final decision over netting is up to each team, so protections for fans can vary from one stadium to another. Other governing sports bodies, such as the National Hockey League (“NHL”), have mandatory requirements in this regard, but the MLB still leaves control in the hands of teams.

Limiting Liability in the Small Print

Dowdell’s lawsuit is filed against the Orioles and the MLB because those two parties both play a role in determining the amount of protection offered to spectators. Unlike Dowdell, many fans struck by objects at games don’t file lawsuits. One of the reasons for this lack of legal action by injured spectators is the disclaimer included with a ticket purchased to these games, which attempts to deny liability in the event of injuries.

However, even though these organizations include disclaimers, they can still be held responsible. In cases where an injury could have been prevented were it not for the negligence of another person, the injury victim can pursue compensation for the damages they have suffered. Disclaimers might help reduce liability, but they don’t entirely absolve a business or organization from blame.

At Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law, we believe that anyone injured by negligence should have the opportunity to be heard. Whether it is a case of premises liability or related claims like negligent security, someone who has suffered serious injury should explore all his or her options. We offer free consultations so that you can better understand the benefits and risks of pursuing compensation in an injury claim.

To schedule a free consultation with Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law, contact us today by filling out our online contact form or giving us a call at 1(800) 444-5000 or locally in the Houston area at (713) 973-8888.