News 02.07.24

Spectator Injury Case Tossed On Pre-Answer Motion To Dismiss

Segal McCambridge was successful in securing the dismissal of a spectator injury case at Citi Field on a pre-answer motion to dismiss.

In Harrison v. Washington Nationals, Juan Soto, Victor Robles, and Queens Ballpark Company, L.L.C., the Supreme Court, Queens County dismissed Plaintiff’s personal injury action in response to our pre-answer motion to dismiss.  Plaintiff Is an adult who allegedly sustained serious injuries while she was a spectator at a New York Mets-Washington Nationals baseball game at Citi Field.

Before the start of the game, Plaintiff was watching two of the players, Defendants Juan Soto and Victor Robles, warming up on the field. Plaintiff observed the players from the first few rows of the stands. She claims that Soto threw the ball in the direction of the stands and struck her right forearm.  She sued the New York Mets, the Washington Nationals and the players in a negligence action for damages.

Rather than defend the action and later move for summary judgment, we moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s complaint in lieu of answering. We submitted the lease agreement for Citi Field as documentary evidence, and we noted that Plaintiff could not state a cognizable negligence action as a matter of law based on her assumption of the risk, among other things. We established that a protected area was provided behind home plate and Plaintiff chose not to occupy that area at any time relevant to her Complaint. Moreover, Defendants did not create or have notice of the claimed dangerous condition. We further established that Defendants exercised reasonable care under the circumstances to prevent injuries to those who come to watch games played at Citi Field.

The Supreme Court, Queens County correctly cited Akins v. Glens Falls City School Dist.  (53 NY2d 325 ([1981]) as New York’s precedent relevant to the proprietor of a baseball field’s duty of care: Akins mandated that the proprietor of a ballpark need only provide protective screening for the area of home field where the danger of being struck by ball (or bat) is greatest. Further, the screening must be of sufficient extent to provide adequate protection for as many spectators as may be reasonably expected to desire such protection in the course of an ordinary game. Where such screening is provided, the proprietor of a baseball field “fulfills its duty of care imposed by law and, therefore, cannot be liable in negligence.” The Supreme Court, Queens County further cited to dicta in Akins that “the perils of the game of baseball …are not so imminent that due care on the part of the owner requires the entire playing field be screened.” The Supreme Court further observed that some spectators prefer to view the game from a seat unobstructed by fences or protective screening.    

In Harrison, Plaintiff did not allege that she was struck while she was in a protected area, or that the screening was not sufficient to provide adequate protection for as many spectators as may reasonably be expected to desire such seating during an ordinary game. She chose to observe the players warming up from an unprotected area. Consequently, she failed to state a cause of action for negligence.

In addition, the Supreme Court, Queens County held there was no basis to hold the Washington Nationals, Soto, or Robles liable for Plaintiff’s claimed injuries. They had no responsibilities regarding Citi Field and owed no duty of care to Plaintiff under the circumstances. Further, under New York’s doctrine of primary assumption of the risk, a person who chooses to engage in certain recreational or athletic activities consents to those commonly appreciated risks which are inherent in and arise out of the nature of the sport, generally, and flow from such participation. This doctrine applies to spectators such as Plaintiff and this was another basis upon which to dismiss her Complaint. The win is significant and it avoided costly discovery and depositions.

Carla Varriale-Barker represented the defendants. She is the Chairperson of the firm’s Sports, Recreation, and Entertainment (“SRE”) Practice Group.