A sweeping decision by a unanimous Idaho Supreme Court has called into question the future of the well-known "baseball rule," which for generations has insulated stadium owners and operators from liability for claims by spectators injured by errant bats and balls. In its ruling for plaintiff Bud Rountree, the court also held that primary or secondary assumption of the risk is not a defense except in a situation involving express written or oral consent, signaling that the baseball rule may be giving way to a duty of care based on traditional negligence principles.

On Aug. 13, 2008, Rountree and his family watched a Boise Hawks baseball game from behind a protected area at Memorial Stadium. (Most areas of Memorial Stadium are, in fact, protected by 30-foot-high mesh netting.) However, he later went to the "Executive Club" - one of the stadium's few unprotected areas, where there are no signs warning of the dangers of being struck by a foul ball. Rountree admitted that while he was in the Executive Club, he stopped paying attention to the game until he heard a roar from the crowd; when he turned around to see what was happening, he was struck in the face by a foul ball. He subsequently lost his eye.

Rountree subsequently commenced a negligence action against 17 defendants (collectively, "Boise Baseball"). Boise Baseball moved for summary judgment and urged the lower court to adopt the "baseball rule," which limits the duty of care owed by a baseball stadium owner or operator to screening the area behind home plate. Since there was no dispute that Boise Baseball met that standard of care, Boise Baseball contended that the case should be dismissed once the baseball rule was applied. In the alternative, Boise Baseball argued that Rountree consented to the risk of injury by watching the baseball game from an unprotected area. In response, Rountree contended that the baseball rule was "outmoded and in decline" and contrary to public policy, and asked the court not to adopt it. The lower court denied the motion for summary judgment and Boise Baseball appealed.

Taking up Rountree v. Boise Baseball LLC [(Idaho Supreme Court 2013)], the Idaho Supreme Court - even while conceding that a majority of jurisdictions have adopted some version of the baseball rule - held that the issue of the duty of care owed by stadium owners and operators to spectators injured by foul balls was a matter of first impression in Idaho, meaning that there is no binding authority on the matter presented. The court found no compelling public policy reason to limit the duty of care owed to a spectator at a baseball game and expressly rejected the "nose count" of other jurisdictions that have chosen to adopt the baseball rule. The court observed that, if it so decided, Idaho's legislature could enact legislation limiting the duty of care owed by a baseball stadium owner or operator. The legislatures of Arizona, Colorado, New Jersey and Illinois have enacted such legislation rather than adopt the baseball rule.

Boise Baseball also lost on the second prong of its appeal: the Boise Supreme Court held that primary implied assumption of risk is not a valid defense under Idaho law unless there is express written or oral consent to the risk of injury. Apparently, the exculpatory language on the back of Rountree's ticket did not suffice as written consent, and Rountree even alleged that, although he was a season ticket-holder for more than 20 years, he never read the exculpatory language. This stated:

"THE HOLDER ASSUMES ALL RISK AND DANGERS INCIDENTAL TO THE GAME OF BASEBALL INCLUDING SPECIFICALLY (BUT NOT EXCLUSIVELY) THE DANGER OF BEING INJURED BY THROWN OR BATTED BALLS."

Allowing assumption of the risk as an absolute bar was deemed inconsistent with Idaho's comparative negligence system - whether the risks are inherent in an activity or not. The court further held that cases involving primary assumption of the risk are readily handled by Idaho's comparative negligence principles: fault will be assessed and liability will be apportioned. In the Rountree case, the court held, a jury will ultimately apportion the degree of fault between Rountree and Boise Baseball.

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If a stadium is designed to have unprotected areas whose specific purpose is to have fans/spectators in it, it would seem to be a case of negligence on the stadiums owners to not adequetly provide protection to those fans/spectators.
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Great....promotion of the Nanny State continues.

Just curious if I go to a game and forget to put sunscreen on; and there is no protection provided by the stadium and no sign advising me of the potential for sunburn, and I get sunburned... who can I sue?
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I don't agree with the Idaho decision, or some of the others that have declined to apply 'the baseball rule'---a stadium is not like other commercial premises and should not be analyzed using the same principles as would apply to a shopping mall, for example. Precisely because of the (obvious) presence of errant bats, balls and the like that is not the case at a shopping mall. A spectator assumes those risks and in fact often want to be up close and experience those hazards. Again, a baseball stadium not the same as ordinary commercial premises. I think this decision crosses into a realm where a baseball owner/operator is an insurer of a spectator's safety. I just do not think that is a desirable outcome. I welcome other opinions on the matter, reasonable minds can disagree.
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I have not read teh entire decision, however, my first question is how did the 'baseball rule' become a 'Rule' that is followed in practice? What the court might be saying is that the 'baseball rule' is not a rule or a precedent that can be upheld. That state legislators need to pass laws that protect stadium owners from inherent risks if that is what they wish to do. Can the Idaho legislature get involved at this point and grandparent in the stadium owner? I believe stadium owners should not be held at fault for spectators being injured by a foul ball. Even netting fails at times. It is part of the game. But if that is what the owners want, legislators should act.
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Jim, I would have assumed that a reasonable person could differentiate between going to an open stadium where you might get rained on or sunburnt, and being adequately prepared for those things, versus having an area within that stadium where foul balls may enter but people are also enticed to come in an drink alcohol, and not having that area properly protected against being hit by those foul balls.
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I certainly hope this is overturned. My concern is that this sort of ruling will seep over to other activities like skiing where ski resort owners are sued because of injuries sustained because of exposed rock, roots or trees or poor quality of snow. I see the 'Baseball Rule' very much the same as the ' Ski Resort Rule'. A very thorny issue as to where you draw the line.
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As a baseball fan, I don't want screens and nets all over. I know there is a risk, but I would much rather sit with the risk and a better view.