Man Loses Eye When Struck By Foul Ball and Sues Minor League Boise Hawks

Rountree v. Boise Baseball, LLC, 296 P.3d 373 (Idaho, 2013)

What were the issues?
Should Idaho adopt the Baseball Rule? Did the plaintiff, a spectator at a professional baseball game, consent to the risk of being hit by a foul ball?

What is the Baseball Rule?
The Baseball Rule limits the liability for injury caused by foul balls if the owner of the stadium has adequately screened the “most dangerous part of the stadium” (usually those seats behind home plate) and has screened seats available to “as many spectators as may reasonably be expected to request them on an ordinary occasion.”
The courts in several states follow the Baseball Rule and several states including Illinois, Colorado and Arizona have adopted legislation codifying the Baseball rule.

What happened?
The Boise Hawks are the Class A Short Season affiliate of the Chicago Cubs and play their games at Memorial Stadium in Garden City, Idaho. On August 13, 2008, Bud Rountree took his wife and two grandchildren to the Boise Hawks game at Memorial Stadium. After eating dinner at the ballpark, they went the Executive Club to socialize. The Executive Club is located at the end of the third base line beyond the grandstand and an eating area called the Hawks Nest.
While having a conversation in the Executive Club section and facing away from the action, Mr. Rountree heard the crowd roar and turned his head back to the field just in time to be struck by a foul ball in his face. He sustained injuries to his eye that led to its removal. The Executive Club was covered by horizontal netting but was not protected by vertical netting.
The entrance to the Executive Club had no warning signs posted regarding the dangers of foul balls. The back of Mr. Rountree’s ticket, however, stated the warning, “THE HOLDER ASSUMES ALL RISK AND DANGERS INCIDENTAL TO THE GAME OF BASEBALL INCLUDING (BUT NOT EXCLUSIVELY) THE DANGER OF BEING INJURED BY THROWN OR BATTED BALLS.” Mr. Rountree, a season ticket holder for more than 20 years, claimed that he had never read the back of his ticket before the injury occurred. In the seven years prior to this occurrence, Mr. Rountree was the only person to have suffered a major injury because of a foul ball.
Mr. Rountree filed a lawsuit against the Boise Hawks and a number of other defendants alleging that their negligence caused him to lose his eye. Several of the defendants filed motion for summary judgment with the court asking that the case be dismissed because of the Baseball Rule or, alternatively, because Mr. Rountree assumed the risk of being hit by the foul ball.

Who won?
Mr. Rountree. The district court denied the defendants’ motion for summary judgment. The Supreme Court of Idaho affirmed the ruling of the district court, meaning that Mr. Rountree’s injury case would continue against the defendants.

Why?
This was the first time the issue of the Baseball Rule had been before the court in Idaho.
The district court found that while there “may be good reasons to adopt the Baseball Rule,” they deferred to the Idaho Legislature to decide whether to make the Baseball Rule the law.
The Supreme Court noted that despite so many other states having endorsed the Baseball Rule, its widespread acceptance was not enough for them to act similarly. The Court found that the rarity of this type of incident weighed against adopting the rule. Additionally, determining the areas of the stadium that should be protected by netting was an inquiry more appropriate for the Legislature to address.
Furthermore, the Court held that assumption of risk had no legal effect as a defense because Mr. Rountree did not provide express written or oral consent.

What about Mr. Rountree?
The case continues and appears to be headed towards trial. Memorial Stadium Inc. has been recently dismissed from the case so it is possible they negotiated a settlement with Mr. Rountree; however, this cannot be confirmed.
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