Assumption of Risk for Spectators at Live Sporting Events
Last night, the 2017 World Series got underway as this year’s baseball season draws to a close. Business is essentially back to normal for Major League Baseball, though the mood could have been quite different. About a month ago, a toddler at Yankee Stadium was hit in the face by a 105-mile-per-hour foul ball during a game. The little girl suffered a broken nose and other fractures, spending five days in New York hospital, but her injuries could have been much worse and potentially fatal.
The frightening incident has led many to wonder about the family’s recourse regarding their child’s medical expenses. Could they sue the New York Yankees or the ownership group for negligence or failure to provide for the safety of spectators in attendance? While many injured spectators have tried in the past to sue ballpark owners and sports teams, their efforts are often unsuccessful due to a doctrine known as “assumption of risk.” In the state of Illinois, the assumption of such risk has even been codified into statutory law.
Landowners who invite guests onto their property for any reason owe a duty of care to those guests in regard to their safety. Property owners must keep the premises free from trip hazards, poorly maintained walkways and stairs, and other potential hazards. Owners and operators of sports facilities, however, must deal with the added complexities of additional dangers inherent to the game being played. During a baseball game, batted and thrown balls and broken bats can enter the seating area a high speed. At a hockey game, pucks and sticks can do the same.
Civil courts have largely held that a sports spectator assumes certain risks by entering a sports facility and sitting close enough to be hit by a ball, puck, bat, or stick. In most facilities, there are seats available that either far enough away to be safe or situated behind protecting netting or other shields. By assuming such risks, that person effectively waives the right to hold the property owner liable for most game-related injuries.
Two Important Laws
In Illinois, there are two separate laws that directly address liability for injuries that occur at a sporting event: the Baseball Facility Liability Act and the Hockey Facility Liability Act. While there are some dangers associated with attending a football, basketball, or soccer game or a motorsports event, the large majority of spectator injuries occur at baseball and hockey games. The two Act both provide that the owners of the facilities—including public, private, professional, and amateur facilities—shall not be liable for injuries that occur as a result of circumstances inherent to the game.
Both laws provide exceptions for spectators who are seated behind a fence, netting, glass, or another protective device that fails to work properly because of the owner’s negligence (not including the height and width of the protection). If for example, a person was sitting behind the protective netting at a baseball game and foul ball went through a part of the netting that was obviously in disrepair, the owner could be held liable because of the condition of the netting. Exceptions also apply for willful and wanton conduct by the owner or player or coach employed by the owner in connection with the game being played.
Call Us for Help
If you or your child has been injured while watching a sporting event and you believe that the owner of the facility should be held responsible, an experienced Orland Park personal injury attorney can help you explore your available options. Call 708-226-9000 for a free consultation at Schwartz Injury Law today.