Recently, as I sat in a cart watching my husband chase his golf ball around the course, I began to wonder about the legal ramifications if his ball went slightly astray. All too often we hear of injuries to onlookers during sporting events. Last summer, an Iowa Cubs spectator was hit in the forehead by a foul ball. Just last month, during the BMW PGA Championship, one professional golfer managed to hit three different spectators with errant shots. Do we, as fans, assume the risk of being injured when we choose to attend a sporting event?Major League Baseball has taken steps in an attempt to prevent injuries to fans at games. The Iowa Cubs were one of the first minor league teams to voluntarily add extra netting along the first and third base lines. Such netting is now mandatory in Major League Baseball – in February 2018, it was announced that all 30 MLB teams would have protective netting extending to at least the far ends of both dugouts by 2018 Opening Day. Unfortunately, this extended netting isn’t always enough. In fact, the previously mentioned baseball injury occurred after the Iowa Cubs had added extra netting. So what does the law say? Iowa case law requires the owner of a baseball park to provide screening for the area of the field behind home plate where the danger of being struck by a ball is the greatest.1 Generally spectators sitting outside protective netting have been unable to recover for injuries related to errant bats and balls because such injuries were an inherent risk of attending the game.2 However, it has been noted more recently that a person’s knowledge of an open and obvious risk inherent in an activity does not negate the owner’s duty to screen or warn, but instead is relevant to the injured party’s own degree of responsibility for the incident.3
The takeaway is that fans of baseball, golf, or any other sporting event must be aware of their surroundings at all times. And with that, a terrible joke: How many golfers does it take to change a lightbulb? Fore!
1 Arnold v. City of Cedar Rapids, 443 N.W.2d 332, 333 (Iowa 1989).
2 Sweeney v. City of Bettendorf, 762 N.W.2d 873, 881 (Iowa 2009).
3 Ludman v. Davenport Assumption High Sch., 895 N.W.2d 902, 914 (Iowa 2017).
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