By Carla Varriale, of Havkins Rosenfeld Ritzert & Varriale
The Supreme Court, Queens County recently granted summary judgment in a negligence action involving a spectator who was exiting Citi Field (the “Stadium”) during a baseball game when a group of spectators trampled her in their pursuit of a souvenir baseball. The plaintiff sustained severe personal injuries requiring surgery and later sued the defendants, alleging that the unidentified patrons’ behavior was foreseeable and that the defendants (which included several New York Mets entities who were not responsible for providing security or crowd control at the Stadium) were negligent in failing to provide sufficient security staff or ushers to prevent the accident. The court’s decision applied both the limited duty of care upon the owners and operators of a baseball stadium known as “the Baseball Rule” and the doctrine of assumption of risk to bar the negligence action.
The plaintiff was a spectator who chose to occupy unprotected seats at the Stadium (a protected area was provided behind home plate at all times relevant to the accident) and chose to remain at the Stadium through eight innings of the baseball game, the defendants demonstrated that they did not owe her a duty of care under the circumstances. Absent a duty of care owed, the negligence action against the defendants (particularly the defendants that had no duties responsibilities regarding crowd control or security at the Stadium) failed as a matter of law. The defendants also submitted evidence that sixty-seven foul balls and two home runs had entered the stands during the eight innings that the plaintiff remained at the game. The defendants also provided evidence of warnings and instruction to “remain alert”, among other things, on the back of her ticket and set forth in announcements made prior to and during the baseball game. Therefore, although the plaintiff claimed she was a “novice” spectator and not aware that spectators could pursue a baseball in this fashion, the defendants also demonstrated that she could not establish a duty of care existed based upon the doctrine of assumption of risk. Under either scenario, the negligence action should be dismissed as a matter of law.
Defendants (specifically, Queens Ballpark Company, L.L.C.) proffered the expert opinion and affidavit of noted security and crowd control expert. William D. Squires, who analyzed the security staffing and the facts opined that although the attendance for the subject game was 12,708 people, the security staffing was provided based on a projected crowd of 21, 135. The number and deployment of security personnel was more than reasonable under . Nor were defendants ever put “on notice of the danger of a trampling incident because there were no prior complaint is or similar accidents involving that sort of spectator conduct. Therefore, even if a duty of care existed, the defendants provided reasonable security procedures, and did not breach the same.
The Supreme Court, Queens County cited to New York’s specialized duty of care upon the owners and operators of baseball stadiums known as the “Baseball Rule.” See Akins v. Glens Falls School Dist., 53 N.Y.2d 325 (1981) (Court of Appeals holds that in the exercise of reasonable care, the proprietor of the ballpark need only provide screening in the area of the field behind home plate where the dangers of being struck by a ball is greatest). The Akins court specifically noted that the owner of a baseball stadium of is not an insurer of the safety of its spectators, rather the owner or proprietor is only under a duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances to prevent injury to those who come to watch the games. That duty of care required by the ”Baseball Rule” was discharged in this case
Significantly, the Supreme Court, Queens County also applied the rationale of the Court of Appeals holding in Hayman v. Pettit, 9 N.Y3d 324 (2007) (Court of Appeals holds that the “Baseball Rule” also applies to spectators outside of the baseball stadium seeking souvenir baseballs because, considering the practical realities of the sport of baseball, the possibilities or injury and the potential for liability would be limitless with regard to this sort of souvenir-seeking behavior).
Likewise, the plaintiff’s negligence action was undone by the doctrine of assumption of risk because the plaintiff placed herself in close proximity to the playing field and consented ot the risk of injury that arises out of the nature of the sport.
Although the Supreme Court, Queens County did not need to reach this issue, the defendants established that they did not create or have notice of the sudden and unexpected conduct of the spectator who allegedly tramped the plaintiff. The plaintiff failed to show that the area where she was sitting was overcrowded or that she could not find safe place to exit. See Palmieri v. Ringling Bros. & Barnum Bailey Combined Shows, 237 A.D.2d 589 (2nd Dep’t 1997). The plaintiff’s remaining claims were not supported by evidence or failed ot meet her burden of proof. Therefore, the Supreme Court, Queens County dismissed the negligence action against the defendants in its entirety.
Carla Varriale and Shawn Green of Havkins, Rosenfeld, Ritzert and Varriale, LLP in New York represented the defendants in Joi Fodera v. Queens Ballpark Company, L.L.C., et al. ( Index Number 704701/2016). Ms. Varriale also teaches “Sports Law and Ethics” at Columbia University‘s School of Professional Studies.