Injured at Petco Park?
A young child attends a San Diego Padres game for the first time. She is excited to see “her” team in person, and it doesn’t matter to her that she sits in the nosebleed section. But something goes horribly wrong during the seventh-inning stretch. She slips on soda spilled by a Petco Park employee in an area that should clearly have been marked. Her exciting day at the ballpark becomes a day spent in the hospital.
Petco Park is generally a safe place full of excited fans. What happens, though, when a fan is injured at the park by a fly ball, spilled liquid or even defective bleachers?
UPDATED JANUARY 2016:
In July 2015, the Major League Baseball Commissioner was sued on behalf of baseball spectators nationwide who believe that safety standards are not adequate at baseball games. Only a few days after the suit was filed, Melvin Upton Jr. of the San Diego Padres accidentally split his bat in half while at bat in Petco Park, sending a large shard of wood flying at the spectators directly behind home plate.
Thankfully, the netting behind the batter stopped the shard, which launched point-first at baseball fans like a spear. Had it not been stopped, witnesses believe that injury would have been all but certain. These are the events that the suit claims happens far too often at professional games. Bloomberg News published a study in 2014 that confirmed the danger of baseball games—they found that 1,750 spectators are injured every year by baseballs alone.
In cases of fly balls and other dangers a reasonable person would expect at a ball park, the injured person has historically been on his or her own. If, however, the danger is not reasonable and Petco Park knew or had reason to know of the danger and failed to warn of it, then the owners of Petco Park may be liable for the damages that danger causes under California personal injury law.
That is, of course, not always so black-and-white. Regarding our hypothetical girl’s injuries, it is reasonable to expect there to be liquid on the floor of ballpark concourses and stands. Yet, it may not be reasonable for an employee to spill a significant amount of liquid and not post a warning.
The suit filed against the MLB Commissioner may also challenge the historical immunity of Petco Park and other ballparks. Bud Selig, former MLB Commissioner, once commented that the idea of shattered bats kept him awake at night because of the danger they posed to field personnel and spectators. Just last year, a woman named Tonya Carpenter received a major brain injury after a flying bat struck her at Fenway Park.
These cases often come down to timing. The current climate regarding danger at baseball games and stadiums like Petco Park may open the door to further premises liability cases, as well as create incentive for changes in safety equipment. After all, full protective netting for spectators is already industry standard at Japanese baseball games—how long before American baseball catches up?