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If a Foul Ball Hits You, Does the Team Owe You Anything?

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On August 29, former Phillie and current Florida Marlins infielder Greg Dobbs hit a kid in the face with a line drive foul ball while playing the Mets at Citi Field.

The 12-year-old fan, from Long Island, suffered from severe internal bleeding, had to have had two blood transfusions and four CT scans, and spent five days in the intensive care unit at the hospital.

Dobbs visited the kid in the hospital, gave him the glove used in the game and a signed bat, and called the boy’s family several times to check on his condition. This is all well and good. But shouldn’t the team or Major League Baseball be doing a little more—like covering the kid’s medical bills?

According to the law, no.

While being a baseball fan can be a dangerous prospect*, in the last few decades the courts have pretty consistently come down in favor of the teams, leagues, and stadiums when it comes to lawsuits regarding spectator injuries.

Most of these cases get dismissed under the doctrine of assumption of risk, a defense in tort law that prevents a plaintiff from recovering damages if the defendant can show that the plaintiff voluntarily and knowingly assumed the risks inherent to the activity they were participating in when they got hurt. In the case of baseball, this means that spectators are usually considered to be assuming the risk that a ball, bat, glove or outfielder may leave the field and hit them.

It’s only when “the plaintiff introduces adequate evidence that the amusement facility in which he was injured deviated in some relevant respect from established custom will it be proper for an ‘inherent-risk’ case to go to the jury,” the Pennsylvania Supreme Court explained in one case.

This wasn’t always the norm, though, and from the dawn of major league sports up until the mid-20th century, injured fans usually had the law on their side.

Game Change

In the latter half of the last century, more and more cases were decided in the favor of the teams and leagues. The judges’ decision in the 1986 case of Neinstein v. Los Angeles Dodgers sums up the reasoning behind the shift:

“As we see it, to permit plaintiff to recover under the circumstances here would force baseball stadium owners to do one of two things: place all spectator areas behind a protective screen thereby reducing the quality of everyone's view, and since players are often able to reach into the spectator area to catch foul balls, changing the very nature of the game itself; or continue the status quo and increase the price of tickets to cover the cost of compensating injured persons with the attendant result that persons of meager means might be 'priced out' of enjoying the great American pastime. To us, neither alternative is acceptable. In our opinion it is not the role of the courts to effect a wholesale remodeling of a revered American institution through application of the tort law.”

These days, to cover their butts on the assumption of risk, most, if not all, leagues, teams and stadiums now place disclaimers and assumption of the risk statements on the back of each ticket. There are signs around the stadium, and announcements are made before and during games. Even with this precaution taken, having to go to court in the first place is a drain on time, energy and money. Teams try to further insulate themselves from lawsuits by taking precautions—like having ballgirls hand used balls to fans instead of lobbing them.

Meanwhile, in the courts, determining what constitutes risks “inherent to the game” is the main issue that has to be decided. The courts have long held that the team is in the clear for a spectator struck by a batted ball, whether it happened during the course of the game or in pregame batting practice. But what about a broken bat?  Bat shards enter the seating areas less often than fouls, certainly, but it’s become increasingly common. Courts have found no fault on the defendant’s part in several cases.

What if You Were Buying Peanuts and/or Cracker Jack at the Time?

While judges have generally become more broad in their definitions of what constitutes common and inherent risks of the game, injuries that happen away from the field usually fall outside a fan’s assumed risks. For example, fans have sued and won lawsuits after being struck by an iron entrance gate (Murray v. Pittsburgh Athletic Co.), falling down a staircase, falling into a hole while going to a concession stand (Louisville Baseball Club v. Butler) and getting hit by a ball while getting refreshments.

If you want to learn more about the dangers of the great American pastime, check out Death at the Ballpark: A Comprehensive Study of Game-Related Fatalities, 1862-2007, a detailed catalog of deaths and fatal injuries that happened during the playing, officiating or watching of baseball – including a whole section on deaths by commotio cordis, awful–sounding concussions of the heart caused by balls hitting a particular spot in the chest at the exact moment between heartbeats.

* There’s no centralized tracking of spectator injuries, but one estimate given by people who study these sorts of things is 2,540 injuries per year nationwide. Another study estimated 35 injuries - by foul balls alone – per million spectators per year.

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Big Questions
Why Does the Queen Have Two Birthdays?
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CHRIS JACKSON, AFP/Getty Images

On April 21, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will turn 92 years old. To mark the occasion, there are usually a series of gun salutes around London: a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21 gun salute in Windsor Great Park, and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London. For the most part, the monarch celebrates her big day privately. But on June 9, 2018, Her Majesty will parade through London as part of an opulent birthday celebration known as Trooping the Colour.

Queen Elizabeth, like many British monarchs before her, has two birthdays: the actual anniversary of the day she was born, and a separate day that is labeled her "official" birthday (usually the second Saturday in June). Why? Because April 21 is usually too cold for a proper parade.

The tradition started in 1748, with King George II, who had the misfortune of being born in chilly November. Rather than have his subjects risk catching colds, he combined his birthday celebration with the Trooping the Colour.

The parade itself had been part of British culture for almost a century by that time. At first it was strictly a military event, at which regiments displayed their flags—or "colours"—so that soldiers could familiarize themselves. But George was known as a formidable general after having led troops at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, so the military celebration seemed a fitting occasion onto which to graft his warm-weather birthday. Edward VII, who also had a November birthday, was the first to standardize the June Trooping the Colour and launched a tradition of a monarchical review of the troops that drew crowds of onlookers.

Even now, the date of the "official" birthday varies year to year. For the first seven years of her reign, Elizabeth II held her official birthday on a Thursday but has since switched over to Saturdays. And while the date is tied to the Trooping the Colour in the UK, Commonwealth nations around the world have their own criteria, which generally involve recognizing it as a public holiday.

Australia started recognizing an official birthday back in 1788, and all the provinces (save one) observe the Queen's Birthday on the second Monday in June, with Western Australia holding its celebrations on the last Monday of September or the first Monday of October.

In Canada, the official birthday has been set to align with the actual birth date of Queen Victoria—May 24, 1819—since 1845, and as such they celebrate so-called Victoria Day on May 24 or the Monday before.

In New Zealand, it's the first Monday in June, and in the Falkland Islands the actual day of the Queen's birth is celebrated publicly.

All in all, just another reason it's great to be Queen.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
What Is the Meaning Behind "420"?
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Whether or not you’re a marijuana enthusiast, you’re probably aware that today is an unofficial holiday for those who are. April 20—4/20—is a day when pot smokers around the world come together to, well, smoke pot. Others use the day to push for legalization, holding marches and rallies.

But why the code 420? There are a lot of theories as to why that particular number was chosen, but most of them are wrong. You may have heard that 420 is police code for possession, or maybe it’s the penal code for marijuana use. Both are false. There is a California Senate Bill 420 that refers to the use of medical marijuana, but the bill was named for the code, not the other way around.

As far as anyone can tell, the phrase started with a bunch of high school students. Back in 1971, a group of kids at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California, got in the habit of meeting at 4:20 to smoke after school. When they’d see each other in the hallways during the day, their shorthand was “420 Louis,” meaning, “Let’s meet at the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 to smoke.”

Somehow, the phrase caught on—and when the Grateful Dead eventually picked it up, "420" spread through the greater community like wildfire. What began as a silly code passed between classes is now a worldwide event for smokers and legalization activists everywhere—not a bad accomplishment for a bunch of high school stoners.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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