No one knows for sure how many fans are injured every year by foul balls entering the stands. Major League Baseball claims not to know, although detailed information on all types of fan injuries is kept by every first aid station at every major and minor league park in the country. If organized ball really wanted to know, all it would have to do is survey this data. And it can be done, even within the restrictions governing patient privacy imposed by the HIPAA regulations.
Interestingly, the Boston Red Sox did such a survey several years ago. The Sox were being sued by a fan who had been injured by a foul ball (Jane Costa vs. The Boston Red Sox Baseball Club, 61 Mass. App. Ct. 299). In its defense, the club produced statistical data showing just how common foul ball injuries were. In effect, the Boston Red Sox were making the traditional “assumption of risk” argument that has protected ball teams for over a century (even though, in Massachusetts, the courts have abolished the use of “assumption of risk” as a positive defense). Basically, “assumption of risk” argues that everyone knows that balls and bats frequently enter the stands during a game. As long as “adequate” measures are taken to protect fans, such as protective screening behind home plate, the club is not liable if a fan is injured by a flying object while seated or standing in an unprotected area. There are some limitations to this legal defense, but typically the courts have ruled that fans have assumed the risk of attending games and the club’s responsibility to protect them is limited.
The Red Sox produced a spreadsheet of foul ball injuries covering a five-year period in the 1990s. The club found that injuries ranged from a low of 36 to a high of 53 per season. While many of these were from fans chasing foul balls, quite a few were from balls striking the fans. (By the way, I have access just to the summary of the case. If anyone knows were I can acquire a copy of the actual spreadsheet, please let me know.) The courts ruled in favor of the Sox.
So why, if the Sox could do this sort of survey, doesn’t Major League Baseball do one for every team? MLB keeps all sorts of detailed statistics, including those on broken bats, so why not fan injuries? I have a theory as to why and I call it “the ignorance is bliss” defense. Baseball doesn’t know because it doesn’t want to know. By turning a blind eye to the issue, MLB can claim it simply isn’t aware that there is any serious problem concerning foul ball/flying bat injuries. Once it has the data, though, MLB will be forced to address the issue or be held liable for not doing anything about it.
What are your thoughts on this matter?