WA Case Update: “Foul Ball!” – Baseball’s Limited Duty and Assumption of Risk

From the desk of Kyle D. Riley: America’s pastime holds a special place not only in American society and history, but also in its laws. Baseball has its very own rule that limits the liability of players and operators for injuries caused by the game to spectators. Even in a system of comparative negligence, baseball’s special duty rule has survived to bar recovery to spectators. Given the prevalence of baseball, this rule can arise not only in the context of professional baseball, but also amateur baseball including everything from college ball to recreation leagues. Read on to learn how the limited duty rule and assumption of the risk defense apply to foul balls and broken bats.

Claims Pointer: Nearly every American state has created some form of the “limited duty rule,” which defines the duty of care that a baseball stadium owner owes to spectators injured by foul balls. The duty requires a stadium owner to protect patrons seated in the most dangerous parts of the stadium (i.e., behind home plate) and to provide seating for those patrons that do not wish to sit in a dangerous area. In this case, the Washington Court of Appeals held that the stadium did not violate its limited duty when it did not provide protective screens down the entire length of the first base stands because the risk in that area was not unreasonably dangerous. Furthermore, assumption of the risk barred the plaintiff’s recovery for a number of reasons including that she had seen a foul ball land near her that day, was familiar with baseball, and had tweeted that she wanted a ball to land near her so she could take a ball home.

Reed-Jennings v. The Baseball Club of Seattle, L.P., 351 P.3d 887 (Wash. App., May 26, 2015)

On May 4, 2009, Teresa Reed-Jennings and her family (“the Jennings”) went to a Seattle Mariners’ game at Safeco Field (collectively, “the Mariners”). They arrive an hour early in order to watch the players warm up. Their tickets were two rows up from the...

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