Ask The Experts
YOUTH SPORTS AND THE LAW: The danger foul balls pose to spectators
Q: The recreation facility that I just became the director of includes four baseball fields that we use for our youth baseball program. The problem is the fields are pretty close together, so foul balls from one field can potentially reach other fields. I’m concerned that spectators in the stands watching one game could be at risk of being hit by a stray foul ball from another field that they never see coming? I can’t change the set-up of the fields, so what steps do I need to take to protect our program from lawsuits?
A: A hard hit foul ball is about as dangerous a projectile as we have seen in any sport. Sometimes foul balls can hit a child or family member in the head and that can cause a serious and possibly life-altering injury. Do not take that risk. One serious injury would end your program.
Demanding and insisting that nets be set up to protect players and spectators is essential. You can’t play the game without them. If you cannot put up protective nets, then find alternative fields. If you have to use the fields in question, stagger the games so that they are played at different times, or the fields being used are far apart physically. Make the risk as close to zero as possible. Your responsibility to the children is absolute.
Create a policy that places spectators in safe places away from foul balls, and enforce the policy. Place clear signs in and around all playing fields telling spectators where to sit or stand and stating the risk and dangers of foul balls. We also recommend that you insist that families sign waivers, but waivers are not a substitute for creating a safe playing environment, particularly when you clearly recognize and appreciate the risk.
David Langfitt is a partner in the Locks Law Firm in Philadelphia, Pa., where he specializes in complex commercial, mass tort and fiduciary litigation. He has also litigated multiple patent and copyright infringement claims in federal district and appellate courts. He can be reached at (215) 893-3423 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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