It’s the bottom of the sixth and the home team, the Isotopes, is at bat. Adam Baum, the Isotopes’ all-star player, crunches a 98-mph fast ball down the right field line that heads toward the third deck. To everyone’s chagrin, the ball slices foul at the last moment and makes its way into the excited crowd. While the home crowd may be disappointed, this is the moment that Royal Paine has been waiting a lifetime for. You see, Paine has never caught a foul ball and has specifically purchased season tickets in the first row of the third deck waiting for just this opportunity to present itself. Paine will not be denied — as the speeding ball approaches, he holds out his Cabela’s fishing net to make the snag. Unfortunately, for Paine, things go terribly wrong. Perhaps it was his 6’6” frame against a 26” rail, perhaps it was the six pack he had to drink, or perhaps it was his general lack of coordination, but instead of catching the ball, Paine awkwardly stretches over the rail, completely missing the ball and topples thirty feet into the second deck. Paine suffers serious injuries. After 3 months in the hospital, Paine brings a lawsuit against the Isotopes and its owner, Montgomery Burns. Does Paine have a claim?

Probably not. Although the chances of a lawsuit being brought are high, the chances of a recovery for Paine are relatively low. Since the first baseball stadium was built, architects have been trying to balance safety against fans’ unobstructed site lines. Major League Baseball requires that the rails where Paine was seated be a minimum of 26” tall. The Isotopes complied with this requirement and also posted signs that clearly state, “Do not sit or lean on rail.” In a comparative fault state such as Texas, it is likely that a jury would find that Paine was more negligent than the defendant as he was likely intoxicated and knowingly assumed the risk when he leaned over the third deck rail to catch a $5 souvenir. If a jury were to find Paine 51% responsible for the fall, he would recover nothing.

Falls from the upper decks are rare, but occur with somewhat surprisingly frequency. Three fans have died from falls since 2000, while another 9 have survived similar accidents. In 1994, on opening day of the Texas Rangers’ new ballpark, a fan fell 35 feet from an upper deck while leaning against a rail to have a picture taken. The fan sued the Rangers and settled out of a court for an undisclosed sum.

Tilting The Scales Your Way

Know your environment and watch out for yourself. If you are a fan, know that the professional sports team probably adheres to governmental and league regulations. If you are the company, plan and respond to accidents in an organized fashion. For example, you may have seen stadium safety and medical personnel quickly moving to the aid of any fan hit by a foul ball or falling down. Even though the company may not be legally liable for the fan’s missteps or inattention, quickly responding to the accident is the right thing to do.