As was the death of Mark Twain, the demise of the baseball
rule has been exaggerated, at least in New York. The
baseball rule, also known as the limited duty of care, is a
unique legal duty. The duty of care owed by the owners and
operators of a baseball facility is to provide protective screening
in the area behind home plate. The area behind home plate
is purportedly the area where the danger of being struck by an
errant baseball, bat or even promotional items is the greatest.
If adequate protection is provided to those spectators who
want to watch the game from behind screening, the owners
and operators cannot be held liable to injured spectators.
Recently, Idaho and Missouri courts made headlines when
they rejected the baseball rule and embraced a “reasonable
care” standard instead. Other states, such as New Jersey
and Colorado, have enacted baseball-specific liability statutes.
New York, however, recently reinforced its adherence
to the baseball rule in an unusual case. In Cocco v. City of
New York (2014 N.Y. Slip Op 1395), the Appellate Division,
First Department affirmed summary judgment on behalf of
defendants in a case that involved a plaintiff who was struck
in the face by an errant baseball while walking on a city sidewalk
next to a school. The baseball came from a schoolyard
and ball field adjacent to the sidewalk. The schoolyard was
owned and maintained by the defendants.
Citing the baseball rule, the Appellate Division, First Department
held that the defendants had established their prima facie
entitlement to judgment as a matter of law because they
neither owed nor violated a duty of care owed to the plaintiff.
Even accepting the plaintiff’s allegations and testimony as
true, the defendants, as “the proprietor[s] of a ball park need
only provide screening for the area of the field behind home
plate where the danger of being struck by a ball is the greatest”
Akins v. Glens Falls City School Dist., 53 N.Y.2d 325, 330
(1981). See Haymon v. Pettit, 9 N.Y.3d 324 ; Roberts v.
Boys &Girls Republic, Inc., 51 A.D.3d 246, 247-8 (1st Dep’t
2008), affd 10 N.Y.2d 889 (2008). It was of no moment that
the plaintiff was a passerby and not a spectator, or that the
plaintiff was on a city sidewalk when she was struck. Since
the requisite protection was provided, the duty of care was
satisfied and defendants could not be held liable.
While the baseball rule may be drawing its last breath in
some jurisdictions, the Cocco case demonstrates it is still
alive and well in New York.
Carla Varriale: 646-747-5115 or firstname.lastname@example.org