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Who is responsible if you are injured while attending a pro sporting event?

02/01/2008

More than 15 million Americans attend professional sporting events each year, and injuries to spectators as a result of objects leaving the field are commonplace. One study found that during 127 National Hockey League (NHL) games, there were 122 people injured by pucks, 90 of which required stitches, and 57 required transport to a hospital emergency room. Another study found that injuries to Major League Baseball (MLB) fans from foul balls occur at a rate of 35.1 injuries per million spectator visits.

Who is responsible if you are injured while attending a pro sporting event?

Contrast this with the incidence of injuries on passengerplanes (definedashaving10ormore seats), where in 2006 there were only four serious injuries of the total 750-million passenger enplanements, and going to a professional sporting event is comparatively much more risky than flying on an airplane.

Although injuries can happen at virtually any pro sporting event, they are most common at baseball and hockey games, with auto racing and golf rounding out the top four.

So when you hear coaches yell,“Keep your eye on the ball,” they may be talking to you.

Where does the law stand on this issue?

Consistently in favor of the teams, leagues, and/or event promoters. Courts operate under the premise that spectators assume the risk of attending a game/event, and that it should be obvious to the spectator that a baseball, puck, tire, or golf ball can hit them

“Only when the plaintiff introduces adequate evidence that the amusement facility in which he was injured deviated in some relevant respect from established custom will it be proper for an ‘inherent-risk’ case to go to the jury,” Senior Judge Peter Paul Olszewski wrote in Loughran, quoting Jones.

Regardless of the court decisions, some leagues and state legislators have taken matters a step further. Most, if not all, leagues and teams now place a disclaimer and an assumption of the risk statement on the back of each spectator ticket. Additionally, the NHL responded to a recent spectator death by increasing safety devices at venues. Specifically, protective screens (the glass) around the rink must be at least five feet high and protective netting must stretch from the top of the glass to the ceiling of the venue.

Several state legislatures, including Illinois and Colorado, have passed laws explicitly pushing the liability from the inherent dangers and risks of observing professional baseball onto the spectators. Colorado Revised Statute 13-21-120 is known as the “Colorado Baseball Spectator Safety Act of 1993,” and states in part, “Limiting the civil liability of those who own professional baseball teams and those who own stadiums . . . will help contain costs, keeping ticket prices more affordable.”

Furthermore, “Spectators of professional baseball games are presumed to have knowledge of and to assume the inherent risks of observing professional baseball games, insofar as those risks are obvious and necessary.” Therefore, “the assumption of risk set forth . . . shall be a complete bar to suit and shall serve as a complete defense to a suit against an owner by a spectator for injuries resulting from the assumed risks.”

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