Major League Baseball has asked a California federal court to dismiss a proposed class action claim that accuses the league of failing to sufficiently protect spectators with safety netting. Brought in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Gail Payne et al. v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball et al., 4:15-cv-03229, names the MLB, Commissioner Rob Manfred, and all 30 teams as defendants.
The plaintiffs argue that the defendants are engaging in negligence, misrepresentations, and exposing the spectators of the sport to personal injury . The claim also states that the putative class is afraid for their safety and, as a result, cannot enjoy the games as much. The class points to a Ninth Circuit decision holding that fear or anxiety of future harm is enough to establish injury-in-fact.
Thus far, the plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate standing to bring these claims because they are struggling to prove imminent danger of injury.
In response, MLB argued that the injury rate per ticket is far below one percent and, therefore, the chance of injury is extremely small. MLB argued that fear is not enough to establish standing because the putative class members have failed to demonstrate an imminent danger of injury. Additionally, all fans have the option to purchase seats behind foul ball nets or a seat that is not in the range of foul balls. Either way, MLB argued, the plaintiffs cannot demonstrate a certain impending injury.
The issue of spectator safety at professional sporting events is not a new one for litigation. Previous litigation, however, has set the bar for spectator recovery for injury extremely high. For example, in 2002 a 13-year-old girl was struck and killed by a puck while attending a hockey game. Even in such an extreme case, the team and the NHL were not held liable for her injury or death.
Since fans at sporting events are aware that they could be injured, this knowledge generally absolves the teams, arenas, and leagues of any legal liability.
More often than not, arenas will announce prior to a game starting, provide warnings on tickets, and put up nets to warn spectators about errant balls, pucks, bats, and the like. It appears that so long as teams, arenas, and leagues continue to warn spectators, they will not be found liable for spectator injury anytime soon.