A Georgia court has declined to adopt the so-called "baseball rule," allowing a lawsuit involving a 6-year-old girl injured by a foul ball at an Atlanta Braves game to proceed.
The suit was filed by the girl's father after a foul ball shattered the girl's skull, leaving her with traumatic brain injuries, reports The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Braves had appealed a lower court judge's ruling that the "baseball rule" -- which would have effectively barred the suit -- was not recognized as Georgia law.
What is the "baseball rule," and why did the court decline to recognize it?
The 'Baseball Rule' and Injury Cases
The baseball rule is a rule enforced by many states holding that baseball teams have no duty to protect spectators against being hit by foul balls outside of the areas protected by netting behind home plate.
The rule provides a potential defense to any claim of negligence by allowing the defendant to argue the plaintiff assumed the risk of injury by sitting outside the protected areas.
In this case, the Braves, along with Major League Baseball's Commissioner, had sought to have the rule applied. But a Fulton County judge denied the team's motion for summary judgment and declined to apply the rule. The court also denied the team's motion for declaratory judgment, which sought to have court declare what standard of care the team owed to spectators at its game.
The team then appealed.
Court of Appeals Ruling
The appeals court joined the lower court in declining to apply the "baseball rule" to this particular case. With regard to the lower court's decision not to apply the rule, the Court of Appeals explained, "at this stage of litigation, we find no error in the trial court's refusal to make such a declaration of law."
However, the court's careful language leaves open the possibility that the baseball rule may still be play in this case, and subsequent foul-ball cases, saying "declaratory judgment is not the proper means by which to test their defense that their observation of the baseball rule, or some variant of it, satisfied their duty of care to plaintiffs."
The girl's case will now be allowed to continue, doubtlessly being watched closely by both team owners and personal injury lawyers alike.
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