Fan Sues Phillies After He is Hit in the Face By a Foul Ball He Tried to Catch Barehanded

Pakett v. The Phillies, LP, 871 A.2d 304 (Pa.Commw. Ct., 2005)

What Happened?
Plaintiff Neil Pakett, a dentist, attended the Philadelphia Phillies game at Veterans Stadium on June 25, 2001.  He was sitting in Section 232, Row 5, Seat 8 when Jimmy Rollins came to bat from the left side of the plate in the bottom of the first inning.  Rollins fouled off a pitch into Section 232. 
Dr. Pakett saw the ball coming towards him and attempted to catch it with his bare hands because he “wanted a souvenir.”  Unfortunately, Dr. Pakett was not able to catch the ball and it struck him in his left eye.  As a result, he experienced temporary blindness and underwent surgery.  He claimed that his full vision never returned.
Dr. Pakett was familiar with Section 232, having occupied the same seat 6 or 7 times over the span of several years.   Additionally, he was aware that foul balls were hit into the immediate vicinity of his seat 4 or 5 times per game.  This particular seat was about 80 feet from home plate, to the left of a plexiglass shield that had been installed in 1996 to better protect the fans behind the batter from foul balls.
Dr. Pakett conceded that a batted ball entering the stands could cause an injury and acknowledged that the back of the ticket contained a warning that he entered the stadium at his own risk. 
The Phillies and the City of Philadelphia moved for summary judgment, asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit because there was no duty on their part to protect him from or warn him of the risk of being struck by a foul ball.  The court agreed and found that Dr. Pakett’s having been hit by the foul ball was an “inherent risk” of the game of baseball and that there were no issues with the backstop in place at Veterans Stadium at the time of the occurrence.   Finally, the court found that Dr. Pakett had “sufficient reaction time” to get out of the way of the ball but, rather, he intentionally tried to catch the ball to take home as a souvenir.  
Plaintiff appealed the ruling claiming that there was a duty to protect the area of the stands where plaintiff was sitting due to the occurrence of foul balls landing in that area with “great frequency, speed and force.”

Who won?
The Phillies and City of Philadelphia.  The court affirmed the trial court’s granting of summary judgment.

The chance to catch a foul and keep the ball is “one of the exciting thrills of attendance at the game.”   The “no-duty” rule was found to apply because the risk of being hit by the foul ball was a common and inherent risk of attending a baseball game and plaintiff assumed this risk by attending the game. 
Here, Dr. Pakett was struck by the foul ball during the course of the game while sitting in a seat he had occupied on other occasions.  He was well aware that foul balls frequently entered his section and as the particular ball came towards him, Dr. Pakett attempted to catch it instead of trying to avoid the ball.

Further, plaintiff introduced no evidence that the netting and plexigass protection behind home plate was inadequate or deviated from an established standard for Major League ballparks.      

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