The weather here in central Iowa certainly has not been cooperating, but as I write this it is starting to feel like spring...which can only mean that it’s time for baseball and golf. I enjoy both baseball and golf, and the legal doctrine of “assumption of the risk” comes to my mind each spring when these sports start to get into full “swing” (pun intended).
Assumption of the risk can act as a defense which can bar or reduce a plaintiff's right to recovery against a negligent person/company, if the defendant can demonstrate that the plaintiff voluntarily and knowingly assumed the risks at issue inherent to the dangerous activity in which he/she was participating (or spectating) at the time of his or her injury. In the foul ball scenario, a stadium owner owes a duty of care to its spectators to provide reasonable protection from foul balls. The protective screening behind home plate is a prime example. But fans that sit in unscreened seats may be deemed to have assumed the risk of being struck by foul balls entering the stands in the ordinary course of play. You may have noticed that many baseball teams have extended the protective netting further down the first and third baselines to prevent both injuries and liability. Generally speaking, if a spectator is injured outside of the netting area, the stadium owner’s liability for the injury is lessened or eliminated.
In golf, a common injury involves golfers getting struck by errant golf balls. As a general rule, the golfer hitting the ball is under a duty to exercise ordinary care for the safety of persons that may be struck by the ball. The duty to warn others in the vicinity exists after striking the ball if it becomes apparent that the shot after the golfer shot is errant. As we all know, the standard warning shouted by golfers in this situation is to yell “FORE!” Due to my lack of precision shot accuracy I’ve been known to make liberal use of this warning on the course.
There are more specific details and nuances to the above general rules, and liability is always dependent on the specific facts of each case. For your protection, when you go to a baseball game keep your head up (or down) for those foul balls, and when you are striking balls on the course, hit ‘em straight OR yell “FORE”!
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