Minor League Avoids Foul Ball Injury Suit With ‘Baseball Rule’
Well-known minor league baseball team, the Durham Bulls, dodged a suit filed by a fan in a foul ball-related incident based on the common law “baseball rule.”
The suit against the minor league baseball team, the Durham Bulls Baseball Club, Inc., featured in the Hollywood film “Bull Durham,” was based on a 2015 incident that took place during a game when a fan was hit by a foul ball.
On December 31, 2020, a three-judge Court of Appeals panel ruled on the suit, citing that the “baseball rule” under common law ensures liability protection to teams against spectator injuries. However, it works within the condition that the team in question provides specific seating protection.
Angelina DeBlasio filed the suit after a foul ball hit her face during a 2015 Durham Bulls game. She suffered from ruptured teeth and bones.
DeBlasio appealed from an order that granted judgment in favor of the minor league team and dismissed her suit. She argued the common law “baseball rule” does not apply to her case.
The panel established that since the requisite number of protected seats were provided to patrons, the team adhered to their duty of care.
The appeals court dismissed the argument put forth by DeBlasio, stating that since she was 11 years old when the incident took place, she was therefore unable to understand the risks foul balls posed. The court also cited evidence of DeBlasio’s attendance at multiple games, and the fact that she also played softball for many years.
The court also refused assertions made by DeBlasio. She stated that she was not provided with the choice of protected seating since she was attending a picnic organized by her father’s company. The court refuted that by saying that the plaintiff decided to sit at an unprotected seating area on her own accord.
Citing case law, the panel stated, “Plaintiff, like ‘anyone familiar with the game,’ had sufficient knowledge of the sport to comprehend the danger of balls fouled into the stands even if she had never witnessed such an event herself.”
The panel further added, “Even though plaintiff had no plans to watch the game and considered herself to be attending a picnic, there can be no serious dispute from the evidence that she did not know she was at a picnic in a baseball stadium while a baseball game was taking place. Plaintiff’s deposition testimony unambiguously shows that she knew she was in a baseball stadium, that she was aware a baseball game was underway while she was in the picnic area, and that the game could be observed from that area.”
The Durham Bulls team was featured in “Bull Durham” — a 1988 Oscar-nominated romantic comedy film featuring beloved Hollywood veterans Kevin Costner and Tim Robbins.