The Faulty Law and Economics of the 'Baseball Rule'
53 Pages Posted: 22 Mar 2018
Date Written: March 19, 2018
This article examines the so-called “Baseball Rule,” the legal doctrine generally immunizing professional baseball teams from liability when spectators are hit by errant balls or bats leaving the field of play. Following a recent series of high-profile fan injuries at Major League Baseball (MLB) games, this century-old legal doctrine has come under increased scrutiny, with both academic and media commentators calling for its abolition. Nevertheless, despite these criticisms, courts have almost uniformly continued to apply the Baseball Rule to spectator-injury lawsuits.
This article offers two contributions to the ongoing debate surrounding the Baseball Rule. First, it provides new empirical evidence establishing that the risk of being hit by an errant ball or bat at a professional baseball game has increased considerably in recent years. Specifically, fans attending MLB games today are sitting more than twenty percent closer to the field than they were when the legal doctrine was first established. This fact, along with other changes in the way in which the game is played and presented to fans, have converged to substantially reduce the reaction time that spectators have to protect themselves from flying objects entering the stands, calling into question courts’ continued reliance on the century-old rule.
Second, the article makes the novel observation that courts and academic commentators have, to date, failed to reconsider the Baseball Rule in light of the emergence of the law-and-economics movement, and in particular the contributions it has offered regarding the optimal apportionment of tort liability. By subjecting the doctrine to such an economic analysis, this article finds that the host team will usually constitute the lowest-cost or best-risk avoider, thus suggesting that the legal immunity currently provided by the Baseball Rule inefficiently allocates tort liability in spectator-injury lawsuits.
As a result, the article concludes by contending that future courts (or legislatures) should reject the Baseball Rule and instead hold professional baseball teams liable for spectator injuries. Specifically, it asserts that the Baseball Rule should be replaced by a strict liability regime, thereby better incentivizing teams to implement the most economically efficient level of fan protection in their stadiums.
Keywords: tort law, law and economics, Major League Baseball, MLB, foul ball
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