Baseball And Broken Bats: Woman Injured At Fenway Park May Have Limited Recovery Rights

A spectator named Tonya Carpenter sustained serious injuries after being struck by a broken piece of a baseball bat at Friday night’s game between the Boston Red Sox and the Oakland Athletics at Fenway Park. Her condition has since been upgraded to fair.

The question however remains: what sort of civil liability will Fenway Park, the Red Sox, and other associated parties face?

Baseball has long been known as America’s pastime, and for spectators, it has always posed some degree of risk. In response to legal issues arising out of injuries sustained by spectators, late 19th Century and early 20th Century jurisprudence developed what is today known as the “Baseball Rule.” The Minnesota Supreme Court framed the rule as a modification to the usual business invitee rule in cases where the rule is being applied to “…an exhibition or game which is necessarily accompanied with some risk to the spectators.” Wells v. Minneapolis Baseball & Athletic Ass’n, 122 Minn. 327, 331 (1913). It goes on to articulate the rule as follows: “Baseball is not free from danger to those witnessing the game. But the perils are not so imminent that due care on the part of the management requires all the spectators to be screened in. In fact, a large part of those who attend prefer to sit where no screen obscures the view. [Management] has a right to cater to [spectators’] desires.” Id.

Especially in recent times, the Baseball Rule has been subject to a great deal of criticism. Steven A. Adelman, a sports attorney focusing on venue safety, described the rule as “harsh and old-fashioned.” Martin W. Healy, chief legal counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association, has stated “[t]he Baseball Rule is ripe for change” and that the immunity to lawsuits baseball has received from the rule “has to be tossed out.”

It is not yet clear if Carpenter or someone on her behalf will file a lawsuit, and if so, whether the court will stick with tradition and a long history of legal precedent, or decide that the legal climate is such that it is time for a change.

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