Nevada Supreme Court Favors Team Owner in Assumption of Risk Case

Jun 6, 2008

The Nevada Supreme Court ruled in April that the “limited duty” rule applied to the corporate owner of a professional baseball team, shielding it from spectator, who sued after she was hit by a foul ball.
In a 4-3 decision, the high court rejected the appeal of Kathleen Turner, who on May 4, 2002 was sitting in open air food court when a foul ball, unbeknownst to her, hit her in the head. The injury caused a broken nose and cuts on her face. She and her husband, Michael, filed suit against Mandalay Sports Entertainment, LLC, which owns and operates the Las Vegas 51s, alleging negligence, loss of consortium and emotional distress. The latter claims pertained to her husband.
After a lower court granted summary judgment to the team, the plaintiffs appealed. In granting the appeal, the majority wrote:
“A claim for negligence in Nevada requires that the plaintiff satisfy four elements: (1) an existing duty of care, (2) breach, (3) legal causation, and (4) damages. Jordan v. State, Dep’t of Motor Vehicles, 121 Nev. 44, 74, 110 P.3d 30, 51 (2005).
“At issue in this case is whether the 51s owed a duty to protect Mrs. Turner from foul balls hit into the area where she was sitting. Although we have previously recognized that ‘a proprietor owes a general duty to use reasonable care to keep the premises in a reasonably safe condition for use,’ we have never specifically defined the scope of that duty as it pertains to baseball stadium owners and operators. Hall v. SSF, Inc., 112 Nev. 1384, 1393, 930 P.2d 94, 99 (1996).
“In addressing this issue, at least 12 jurisdictions have adopted the ‘limited duty rule,’ which places two important requirements on stadium owners and operators. See James L. Rigelhaupt, Jr., Annotation, Liability to Spectator at Baseball Game Who Is Hit by Ball or Injured as Result of Other Hazards of Game, 91 A.L.R.3d 24 (1979) (electronically updated as of 2008).
“First, the rule requires stadium owners and operators to provide a sufficient amount of protected seating for those spectators ‘who may be reasonably anticipated to desire protected seats on an ordinary occasion.’
“Second, it requires stadium owners and operators to provide protection for all spectators located in the most dangerous parts of the stadium, that is, those areas that pose an unduly high risk of injury from foul balls (such as directly behind home plate).
Quoting from the Michigan Court of Appeals, the Nevada Supreme Court wrote that “the limited duty rule . . . identifies the duty of baseball stadium proprietors with greater specificity than the usual . . . standard provides.” Benejam v. Detroit Tigers, Inc., 635 N.W.2d 219, 223 (2001).
“In this sense, the limited duty rule does not eliminate the stadium owner’s duty to exercise reasonable care under the circumstances to protect patrons against injury; rather, it defines that duty in detail. Id
“By defining the duty of a baseball stadium owner or operator with specificity, the limited duty rule shields the stadium owner or operator from the need to take precautions that are clearly unreasonable while also establishing the outer limits of liability. Id Once a stadium owner or operator complies with the rule’s requirements by providing sufficient protected seating, the owner or operator has satisfied the legal duty of protection owed to its patrons. Having met this obligation, the stadium owner or operator simply has no remaining duty to protect spectators from foul balls, which are a known, obvious, and unavoidable part of all baseball games. Cf. Harrington v. Syufy Enters., 113 Nev. 246, 249, 931 P.2d 1378, 1380 (1997) (recognizing that recovery is barred under a duty to warn theory “when the danger is obvious, not because the negligence of the plaintiff is greater than that of the defendant, but because the defendant is not negligent at all.”)
“This specificity with regard to the duty imposed on the baseball stadium owner or operator serves the important purpose of limiting expensive and protracted litigation that ‘might signal the demise or substantial alteration of the game of baseball as a spectator sport.’ Benejam, 635 N.W.2d at 223
“Recognizing the importance of establishing parameters around personal injury litigation stemming from professional baseball in Nevada, we take this opportunity to expressly adopt the limited duty rule. As stated above, the limited duty rule establishes the totality of the duty owed by baseball stadium owners and operators to protect spectators from foul balls within the confines of the stadium. Applying the rule to this case, we conclude that Mrs. Turner’s negligence claim fails as a matter of law.
“In this case, Mrs. Turner was injured while eating in the Beer Garden, a concessions area located several hundred feet from home plate on the top viewing level of Cashman Field. Because Mrs. Turner chose not to sit in a protected seating area, the relevant inquiry under the limited duty rule is whether the Beer Garden was one of the most dangerous areas of the ballpark or, more specifically, whether it posed “an unduly high risk of injury” from foul balls. Schneider v. American Hockey, 777 A.2d 380, 384 (2001).
“Here, the record establishes that foul balls occasionally fly into the Beer Garden, some parts of which have an obstructed view of the field. The risk of an occasional foul ball, however, does not amount to ‘an unduly high risk of injury.’ Indeed, Mrs. Turner has conspicuously failed to demonstrate that any other spectator suffered injuries as a result of errant balls landing in the Beer Garden. Thus, we conclude that she failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to the 51s’ negligence, and the 51s were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Butler v. Bayer, 123 Nev. ___, ___, 168 P.3d 1055, 1063 (2007).”
Turner v. Mandalay Sports Entm’t; Nev. S. Ct.; 124 Nev. Adv. Op. No. 20, No. 46191; 4/17/08
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