CLOSE
Original image

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

Original image

© RHONA WISE/epa/Corbis

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.

Original image
Getty Images
arrow
Words
Why Is 'Colonel' Spelled That Way?
Original image
Getty Images

English spelling is bizarre. We know that. From the moment we learn about silent “e” in school, our innocent expectations that sound and spelling should neatly match up begin to fade away, and soon we accept that “eight” rhymes with “ate,” “of” rhymes with “love,” and “to” sounds like “too” sounds like “two.” If we do sometimes briefly pause to wonder at these eccentricities, we quickly resign ourselves to the fact that there must be reasons—stuff about history and etymology and sound changing over time. Whatever. English. LOL. Right? It is what it is.

But sometimes English takes it a step too far, does something so brazen and shameless we can’t just let it slide. That’s when we have to throw our shoulders back, put our hands on our hips and ask, point blank, what is the deal with the word “colonel”?

“Colonel” is pronounced just like “kernel.” How did this happen? From borrowing the same word from two different places. In the 1500s, English borrowed a bunch of military vocabulary from French, words like cavalerie, infanterie, citadelle, canon, and also, coronel. The French had borrowed them from the Italians, then the reigning experts in the art of war, but in doing so, had changed colonello to coronel.

Why did they do that? A common process called dissimilation—when two instances of the same sound occur close to each other in a word, people tend to change one of the instances to something else. Here, the first “l” was changed to “r.” The opposite process happened with the Latin word peregrinus (pilgrim), when the first “r” was changed to an “l” (now it’s peregrino in Spanish and Pellegrino in Italian. English inherited the “l” version in pilgrim.)

After the dissimilated French coronel made its way into English, late 16th century scholars started producing English translations of Italian military treatises. Under the influence of the originals, people started spelling it “colonel.” By the middle of the 17th century, the spelling had standardized to the “l” version, but the “r” pronunciation was still popular (it later lost a syllable, turning kor-o-nel to ker-nel). Both pronunciations were in play for a while, and adding to the confusion was the mistaken idea that “coronel” was etymologically related to “crown”—a colonel was sometimes translated as “crowner” in English. In fact, the root is colonna, Italian for column.

Meanwhile, French switched back to “colonel,” in both spelling and pronunciation. English throws its shoulders back, puts its hands on its hips and asks, how boring is that?

Original image
iStock
arrow
Big Questions
Why Do Cats Love Scratching Furniture?
Original image
iStock

Allergy suffering aside, cat ownership has proven health benefits. A feline friend can aid in the grieving process, reduce anxiety, and offer companionship.

The con in the cat column? They have no reservations about turning your furniture into shredded pleather. No matter how expensive your living room set, these furry troublemakers will treat it with the respect accorded to a college futon. Do cats do this out of some kind of spite? Are they conspiring with Raymour & Flanigan to get you to keep updating home decor?

Neither. According to cat behaviorists, cats gravitate toward scratching furniture mostly because that love seat is in a really conspicuous area [PDF]. As a result, cats want to send a message to any other animal that may happen by: namely, that this plush seating belongs to the cat who marked it. Scratching provides both visual evidence (claw marks) as well as a scent marker. Cat paws have scent glands that can leave smells that are detectable to other cats and animals.

But it’s not just territorial: Cats also scratch to remove sloughed-off nail tips, allowing fresh nail growth to occur. And they can work out their knotted back muscles—cramped from sleeping 16 hours a day, no doubt—by kneading the soft foam of a sectional.

If you want to dissuade your cat from such behavior, purchasing a scratching post is a good start. Make sure it’s non-carpeted—their nails can get caught on the fibers—and tall enough to allow for a good stretch. Most importantly, put it near furniture so cats can mark their hangout in high-traffic areas. A good post might be a little more expensive, but will likely result in fewer trips to Ethan Allen.

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

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios