Take Me Out at the Ballgame: Owner of Baseball Field Not Necessarily Liable When Players Hit It Out of the Park

Anyone who has ever watched a baseball game knows that ballparks only provide safety screens in the area around home plate. That’s because it is reasonable to assume that those around home plate may not be able to react in time to batted balls in their immediate vicinity. Other spectators who voluntarily enter a ballpark are supposed to know that batted baseballs may travel to their seats and therefore assume the risk of being hit.

Under a recent decision from the First Department, the duty to pay attention around ballparks is not limited to the people inside the park. In Cocco v. City of New York, the plaintiff was walking down Lexington Avenue on the Upper East Side when a baseball hit out of the defendant’s schoolyard struck her in the face. In granting the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, the court held that the defendant could not be held liable for the injuries sustained by a pedestrian walking outside of the park. The court reasoned that because the area behind home plate is the most dangerous, a ballpark proprietor is only under a duty to erect a screen around the home plate area.

With this ruling, the court made it clear that a rule designed to recognize the assumption of risk of those who knowingly enter a ballpark also applies to those on the outside who have no intention of watching a game that day. For pedestrians who don’t see it coming, “Take Me Out at the Ballgame” now appears to be the law of the land.

Special thanks to Michael Gauvin for his contributions to this post. If you have any questions about this post, please contact Dennis Wade at dwade@wcmlaw.com.