INDIANAPOLIS | A recent decision by the Idaho Supreme Court could help a region woman partially blinded after being struck by a foul ball at a 2009 RailCats game convince the Indiana Supreme Court to allow her to sue the baseball team.
In a February ruling featuring eerily similar facts, the five Idaho justices became the first court in the nation to reject the "Baseball Rule," which generally provides that a team is not liable for spectator injuries caused by the game if the team provides screened seating behind home plate.
Bud Rountree lost an eye after a foul ball struck him while he was talking with another fan and not paying attention to the game in the unscreened Executive Club section of the Boise Hawks stadium.
The Idaho Supreme Court agreed that Rountree should be permitted to sue the team because the Idaho Legislature is best suited to determine the extent to which baseball teams have a duty to protect their fans, and Idaho lawmakers have yet to limit that liability.
"Here, whether watching baseball is inherently dangerous, and the degrees of fault to be apportioned to Rountree and Boise Baseball, are questions for the jury," wrote Idaho Justice Jim Jones.
The Indiana Supreme Court last week agreed to review an appeals court ruling that prohibited Juanita DeJesus from suing the RailCats. Lake Superior Judge Calvin Hawkins initially allowed her lawsuit to proceed.
The appeals court said no trial was needed because DeJesus was warned three times by the RailCats about the danger of foul balls and chose not to buy seats behind the screen at home plate.
Like Idaho, the Indiana General Assembly has never decided whether a baseball team can be held liable for spectator injuries. Illinois law explicitly prohibits baseball fans from suing teams for game-caused injuries in nearly all circumstances.
DeJesus' attorney Walter Alvarez, of Crown Point, said baseball fans often don't realize how dangerous it can be to sit in an area that's not protected by screens.
"If you ask any fan what do you think the risk is of getting hit by a ball, no one is going to tell you you're going to lose your eye," Alvarez said. "The ball comes off the bat at over 90 miles per hour. You have less than 1.1 seconds to react and not even a professional athlete can react that fast."
He said teams should be required to have screens running from foul pole to foul pole like Japanese baseball stadiums do. In the meantime, he said there's remains a question of whether the RailCats are responsible for DeJesus' injuries.
"It is an issue for the jury to decide whether they extended the netting far enough," Alvarez said.
The Indiana Supreme Court, which often looks at high court decisions in other states to shape its rulings, likely will hold oral arguments in the case in the next few months and rule next year on whether DeJesus' lawsuit against the RailCats can proceed.