Atlanta National League Baseball Club v FF & Ors (2014) H&FLR 2014-43

Atlanta National League Baseball Club v FF & Ors (2014) H&FLR 2014-42

Georgia Court of Appeals

11 July 2014

Coram: Barnes PJ, Boggs and Branch JJ

Appearing for the Appellant: The Hon Leah Ward Sears and Mr Ronald Gaither (of Schiff Hardin LLP) and Mr Bradley Wolff and Ms Pamela Lee (of Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers LLP)
Appearing for the Respondent: Mr Matthew Dwyer (of Dwyer Law Group), Messrs Peter Law and Michael Moran (both of Law & Moran) and Ms Amanda Evans.

Catchwords: Georgia – baseball – infant plaintiff – foul ball – injury – baseball rule – declaratory judgment – negligence

Facts: The plaintiff, a six year old girl, attended a baseball game at the home ground of the Atlanta Braves. While sitting in a part of the stadium behind the visitors’ dugout, she was hit in the head by a foul ball, suffering serious injuries. By her litigation guardian, she issued proceedings against the defendant for negligence.

The defendant applied for a declaratory judgment as to the applicable standard of care under Georgia’s Declaratory Judgment Act, which relevantly provides (OCGA §9-4-2) that –

(a) In cases of actual controversy, the … superior courts of this state shall have power, upon … appropriate pleading, to declare rights and other legal relations of any interested party petitioning for such declaration …; and the declaration shall have the force and effect of a final judgment … and be reviewable as such.

(b) In addition …, the … superior courts of this state shall have power, upon … appropriate pleading, to declare rights and other legal relations of any interested party petitioning for the declaration … in any civil case in which it appears to the court that the ends of justice require that the declaration should be made; and the declaration shall have the force and effect of a final judgment or decree and be reviewable as such.

The court denied the application: FF v Atlanta National League Baseball Club (Fulton County State Court, Porter J, 3 January 2013, unreported). The defendant sought interlocutory review of the denial, arguing that the trial court should have declared that the ‘baseball rule’* formed part of the law of Georgia.

Held: Dismissing the application, that a party seeking a declaratory judgment must show that it is necessary in order to relieve the party of the risk of taking action that, without direction, would jeopardise their interests. It is not available where the parties rights and liabilities have already accrued. In this case, the event giving rise to the defendant’s putative liability had already occurred. The declaratory judgment process would not be an appropriate means of testing the defence that their duty of care was met by observing the requirements of the ‘baseball rule’.

Thomas v Atlanta Casualty Co, 253 Ga. App. 199, 588 SE.2d 432 (2001) and Porter v Houghton, 273 Ga. 407, 542 SE.2d 491 (2001), followed.

Judgment

The Court’s judgment is available here.

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* As to which, see South Shore Baseball LLC v DeJesus (2014) H&FLR 2014-39 and Coomer v Kansas City Royals (2014) H&FLR 2014-41

Coomer v Kansas City Royals (2014) H&FLR 2014-41

John Coomer v Kansas City Royals Baseball Corporation (2014) H&FLR 2014-41

Supreme Court of Missouri

24 June 2014

Coram: Court en banc (Judgment by Wilson J)

Appearing for the Appellant: Robert Tormohlen (of Lewis, Rice & Fingersh)
Appearing for the Respondent: Scott D. Hofer (of Foland, Wickens, Eisfelder, Roper & Hofer, PC )

Catchwords: Missouri – baseball – mascot – hotdog toss – baseball rule – injury – negligence – assumption of risk – inherent risk

Facts: On 8 September 2009 the plaintiff attended a baseball game at Kauffman Stadium between the Kansas City Royals and the Detroit Tigers. Since 2000 a feature of Royals’ home games has been the practice of their mascott (“Sluggerrr“)* tossing hotdogs to members of the crowd. The plaintiff saw Sluggerrr commence throwing hotdogs. He turned to look at the scoreboard and at that moment was hit in the face by a hotdog, causing injury to his left eye.

He commenced proceedings against the defendant alleging negligence and battery. A jury in the trial court returned a finding of no negligence: Coomer v Kansas City Royals Baseball Corporation (2011), The Pitch Blog, 9 March 2011. The plaintiff appealed.

Held: Allowing the appeal –

1. An implied primary assumption of risk by a plaintiff can be identified from their conduct and the surrounding circumstances, including whether a risk is inherent to the activity. Where this has occurred, a plaintiff who knowingly and voluntarily encounters that risk is barred from seeking compensation for resulting injuries. This defence is not affected by the acceptance in law of the principle of comparative fault

Krause v US Truck Co Inc, 787 SW.2d 708 (Mo. 1990), followed.
Gustafson v Benda, 661 SW.2d 11 (Mo. 1983), considered.

2. The “baseball rule”, whereby a ballpark owner is not considered negligent for failing to protect all seats in the park with wire netting and failing to warn a plaintiff about obvious hazards incidental to baseball, is an example of the principle of applied primary assumption of risk.**

Hudson v Kansas City Baseball Club, 164 SW.2d 318 (Mo. 1942); Anderson v Kansas City Baseball Club, 231 SW.2d 170 (Mo. 1950), considered.

3. Where a plaintiff’s injury results from a risk that is not an inherent part of watching baseball, or if the defendant’s negligence has increased the inherent risks and caused the injury, negligence may be found.

Lowe v California League of Professional Baseball, 56 Cal.App.4th 112 (1997), followed.

4. Whether a risk is ‘inherent’ for the purposes of implied primary assumption of risk is a question of law and not of fact. A risk is inherent if it is so intertwined with the relevant activity that it cannot be controlled or limited without abandoning the activity altogether. In this case the risk if injury from the ‘hotdog toss’ was not an inherent part of watching the Royals play baseball, and a risk which the plaintiff assumed by attending the game.

Loughran v The Phillies, 888 A.2d 872 (Pa. 2005); Cohen v Stirling Mets LP, 17 Misc.3d 218 (NY Sup. Ct. 2007), distinguished.

Judgment

The Court’s judgment is available here.

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* Properly, one John Byron Shores.
** South Shore Baseball LLC v DeJesus (2014) H&FLR 2014-39.

South Shore Baseball LLC v DeJesus (2014) H&FLR 2014-39

South Shore Baseball LLC and Anor v Juanita DeJesus (2014) H&FLR 2014-39

Supreme Court of Indiana

27 June 2014

Coram: Dickson CJ, Massa, Rucker, David and Rush JJ

Appearing for the Appellant (Defendant): James R Branit, Mitchell H Frazen, and Nicholas J Parolisi (of Litchfield Cavo LLP)
Appearing for the Appellee (Plaintiff): Walter J Alvarez, Duke T Escue, and David A Wilson (of Alvarez Law Office)
Appearing for an Amicus Curiae (Indianapolis Indians): Andrew B. Janutolo and RD Zink (of Goodin Abernathy)

Catchwords: Indiana – baseball – spectator – foul ball – injury – baseball rule – negligence – premises liability

Facts: On 23 May 2009 the plaintiff attended a minor-league baseball game in support of the South Shore RailCats. Warnings of the danger of foul balls leaving the field were printed on the plaintiff’s ticket, posted on a sign near her seat, and announced over a loudspeaker prior to the start of play. However, the plaintiff sat in a part of the stadium just outside of the are protected by the netting behind home plate. Early in the game the baseball left the playing field, striking the plaintiff and causing serious injuries.

The plaintiff brought proceedings against the operators of the RailCats on the basis that, by failing to extend the protective netting further, they had negligently failed to make the premises (US Steel Yard) reasonably safe for her as a business invitee.

The defendants applied for summary dismissal of the plaintiff’s claim. The trial court declined same: DeJesus v South Shore Baseball LLC (Lake Superior Court, Hawkins J, 16 March 2012, unreported). The defendants’ appeal was allowed: South Shore Baseball LLC v DeJesus, 982 NE.2d 1076 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013). The matter was then transferred to the Supreme Court of Indiana.

Held: Allowing the appeal and granting summary judgment for the defendants, that –

1. The ‘Baseball Rule’, whereby a ballpark operator is protected from liability for injuries from an object leaving the playing field if they have provided screening behind home plate sufficient to meet ordinary demand for protected seating, is not part of the common law of Indiana.

Emhardt v Perry Stadium, 46 NE.2d 704, 113 Ind. App. 197 (1943), doubted.

2. The applicable principle of premises liability law in this case is that a possessor of land is liable for harm to invitees caused by a condition of the land if the possessor should reasonably know of the condition and realise it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to the invitees, and should expect that the invitees will not identify the danger or protect themselves against it, and fails to take reasonable care to protect the invitees from the danger. There was no reason for the defendants to consider that the plaintiff would not realise the danger or protect herself against it.

Pfenning v Lineman, 947 NE.2d 392 (Ind. 2011), applied.

Judgment

The Court’s judgment is available here.