“It’s hard not to be romantic about baseball,” begins the Indiana Supreme Court in its recent decision in South Shore Baseball, LLC d/b/a Gary South Shore Railcats and Northwest Sports Venture, LLC v. Juanita DeJesus. The case arose when Juanita DeJesus was hit by a pop-up foul ball during the opening day Gary South Shore Railcats baseball game, causing fractured bones in her face and blindness in her left eye. DeJesus sued the baseball team and venue owner alleging they were liable for her injuries under theories of premises liability and negligence for failing to place protective screening continuously from first to third base.
In making its ruling, the Indiana Supreme Court refused to adopt the so-called Baseball Rule, a limited duty rule argued for by South Shore and adopted in other jurisdictions, which provides that screening behind home plate sufficient to meet ordinary demand for protected seating would fulfill the ballpark operator’s duty to spectators.
Although the Court would not go so far as to adopt the Baseball Rule, it still found that DeJesus failed to make her case for premises liability because of the warnings South Shore had issued on the back of the ticket, near the stadium seats, and over the loudspeaker. The Court also ruled in favor of South Shore on the negligence claim, finding that DeJesus was unable to establish that South Shore should have expected she would fail to realize and protect herself against the danger of foul balls.
What about crying in golf? The Indiana Supreme Court issued a similar ruling just a few years ago in Pfenning v. Lineman. The basis of that lawsuit was an incident where Pfenning was struck in the mouth by a golf ball while operating a beverage cart on a golf course. The lawsuit included a negligence claim against the golfer who hit the ball that struck her and the lodge that owned and operated the golf course. The Court ruled against Pfenning on both of the aforementioned claims, but rejected the concept that a participant in a sporting event owes no duty of care to protect others from inherent risks of the sport.
It sounds as though there really is no crying in baseball or golf. However, while both DeJesus and Pfenning were decided in favor of the defendants, the Indiana Supreme Court left the door open for successful plaintiffs’ suits against the unwary or un-warning sports venue, team or participant. Keep on playing (or hosting), but do carefully consider your duty to spectators and guests.
For more information on sufficient legal warning as well as any questions regarding negligence or premises liability litigation, please contact KDDK litigator Jeff Ahlers at jahlers@KDDK.com or (812) 423-3183, or contact any member of the firm’s Litigation and Trial Services Practice Team.
About the Author
Jeffrey W. Ahlers, a litigator at Kahn, Dees, Donovan & Kahn, LLP (KDDK), in Evansville, Indiana, is a trial attorney whose practice is devoted primarily to commercial, tort, employment, environmental, and construction litigation, as well as government and municipal law. Jeff is committed to moving mountains for clients through zealous and effective representation.