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How much protective screening should baseball fans expect?

The recent injury to a young girl at Yankee Stadium has reignited the controversy over how extensive the screening should be that protects fans from being struck by balls traveling at speeds of upwards of 100 miles per hour. It also raises questions about the legal responsibility of teams for those injuries.

On Sept. 20, the girl was struck in the face by a foul ball hit by Yankee player Todd Frazier. She received first aid at the stadium before being taken to the hospital. She is "doing a lot better," according to her father. However, the frightening incident has already led to a number teams announcing that they plan to increase protective netting.

When it comes to legal responsibility for such fan injuries, courts have generally adhered to something called the "Baseball Rule." Teams are expected to provide netting or other protective screening for fans seated around home plate (the "zone of danger.")

However, foul balls can go just about anywhere. Stadiums may have little or no protective screening outside that zone. It's been assumed under the Baseball Rule that fans in these other areas of the stadium know the hazards, accept the responsibilities and can choose to buy seats that afford some protection.

As a state Supreme Court ruled in one case, "the stadium owner or operator simply has no remaining duty to protect spectators from foul balls, which are a known, obvious, and unavoidable part of all baseball games."

It's been noted, however, that we're in a different world than when the Baseball Rule originated. Spectators are now likely now to be texting, taking selfies and otherwise involved with their electronic devices.

While plaintiffs don't have a good record of being able to hold baseball teams accountable for injuries caused by foul balls, teams have more to consider than their civil liability. Having a fan struck in the face and seriously injured by a foul ball isn't good for business.

It can also be devastating to the player involved. In this recent case, third baseman Todd Frazer has stayed in touch with the girl's father and says that he hopes to visit her.

It can be daunting to take on a major organization like a baseball team. However, it's always wise to find out what your legal options are if you or a loved one suffers an injury while enjoying America's Pastime.

Source: Sports Illustrated, "Girl Hit in Face by Foul Ball At Yankee Stadium 'Doing a Lot Better'," Michael McCann, Sep. 21, 2017

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