In rare ruling, court says baseball fan can seek damages from foul ball injury

Did you know that if you go to a baseball game and get hit by a foul ball or errant bat, you have little chance of a winning a lawsuit? "The Baseball Rule" says that by purchasing a ticket and going to a game, fans are putting themselves in danger and assuming liability.

But last week, in a rare ruling against "The Baseball Rule," the Idaho Supreme Court balked at convention and said a man who lost an eye after getting hit by a foul ball can seek damages from a baseball team.

Bud Rountree was at a Boise Hawks game in 2008 when a foul ball smacked him in the face. He had left his seat and was talking to someone, according to reports, when he heard the crowd cheer, turned back toward the field and got plunked. The resulting injury eventually cost him his eye.

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Rountree then sued the Hawks, a Single-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Five years later, after various appeals, it turns out his case will go to a jury. Twelve people — not "The Baseball Rule"— will decide whether the team was negligent in Rountree's injury.

Ultimately, the Idaho Supreme Court wrote in its ruling, "[E]ven though the court may have the power to adopt a rule, such as the Baseball Rule ... we find no compelling public policy requiring us to do so." (Read the entire court ruling here.)

Here's more from the AP story on the matter:

The rule has several iterations, but basically holds that stadium owners can't be held liable if fans are injured by thrown or batted balls. Frequently, ticket stubs to sporting events will be printed with a disclaimer saying the holder assumes all risks associated with ball-related injuries, as was the case in the Idaho lawsuit.

"The trend in other courts has been contrary to this Idaho case," said Loyola Law Sports Institute Director Daniel Lazaroff ... "There are lawyers who have said the ticket-stub disclaimer will be sufficient but I have my doubts. It's not like you're signing on the dotted line that you've read the ticket."

What happens in this case could very well have implications beyond Boise, Bud Rountree and Single-A baseball. The basic legal theory behind "The Baseball Rule" is the same one that many experts say could hinder lawsuits by the people injured Saturday at the NASCAR race in Daytona Beach.

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Imagine what would happen if "The Baseball Rule" fell out of favor. Would stadiums and team owners move fans away from the action? Or play games in a glass bubble, separating players from fans? Would fans start suing for other, less serious injuries? Or even the mental anguish of a line drive whizzing past their face? Yes, these are purposely extreme scenarios, but make no mistake, the fear of litigation could be a paralyzing precedent.

Bud Rountree and his lawyers still have to convince a jury this was the baseball team's fault and not his own, for taking his eyes off the action. To win the case, they'd better hope that jury doesn't include a baseball fan who thinks the fun of chasing foul balls outweighs their danger.

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