While the Washington Nationals cruised uneventfully through the NLCS to go to the World Series, the American League games between the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees had a scary moment in Game 2 of the series. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Astros hitter Michael Brantley lined a 1-1 pitch into his own dugout, where it hit a security guard in the head.
The dangers of foul balls at baseball games are well known. They can come off the bat at over a hundred miles per hour and pose a serious threat to anyone who has taken their eyes off the game for a single pitch. Getting hit in the hands or wrists can break bones. A line drive to the head or face can cause a concussion, break teeth or your jaw, and even cause a traumatic brain injury.
Many baseball die-hards claim that all you have to do to stay safe is to simply pay attention to the game. However, even former baseball players can struggle to stay with the path of a hard line drive when they sit near the field along the base paths – the spin put on the ball can make it tail or slice dozens of feet into the stands.
Fans who have been hit by foul balls have gotten the most attention, largely because they paid to see the game and expect to be kept safe. However, when they buy a ticket to a baseball game, they assume the risks that are inherent to the game – including foul balls entering the stands, even at high speeds.
That assumption of the risk is usually printed, in tiny font, on the back of a fan’s seating ticket. It has also been a longstanding piece of premises liability law throughout the U.S.
By assuming the risks of getting hit by a foul ball, fans implicitly agree to not hold the venue responsible for their injuries and will not be able to recover compensation for them.
Baseball stadiums have begun taking stronger precautions to keep their fans safe, mainly by extending the protective netting further around the backstop, sometimes even past the dugouts. Those changes, though, are likely driven by the negative publicity that baseball has gotten from fans getting hurt by foul balls, not by the costs of compensating hurt spectators.
In this case, though, the person who was hurt was a staff member of the Houston Astros. His role on the team should help him recover the compensation he will need to recover from his injuries: Because he was on the job at the time he was hit, he should be able to recover workers’ compensation. The concept of risk assumption gets sidestepped because the workers’ compensation system exists precisely so injured workers like him do not have to take the awkward decision to either go without financial help or sue his boss.
Unfortunately, part of the trade-off that lies at the heart of workers’ compensation is that it only covers some of the legal damages a victim suffers: Non-economic damages like pain and suffering cannot be recovered.