MLB teams increase park netting to mitigate risk

A longstanding law has protected professional baseball from litigious injured fans, but teams are increasingly taking measures to guard against the unsavory optics produced by errant balls and bats.

The so-called Baseball Rule shields teams and puts the onus on baseball fans to take responsibility for their safety while attending games. Yet changes to ballparks have narrowed the distance between players and spectators so risk-conscious teams are installing additional protective netting.

From a legal standpoint, the courts generally rule in favor of the park owners. In November 2016, a U.S. District Court judge of the Northern District of California dismissed a class action lawsuit involving Major League Baseball seeking additional safety netting at ballparks.

The complaint was prompted by two MLB fans injured in separate incidents at both the Oakland Coliseum and Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium. Judge Gonzalez Rogers ruled that MLB’s evidence produced no “credible or immediate threat” that the Oakland A’s fan would be hit by a foul ball or bat and she failed to show that a legal standing was independently established due to “deprivation of her ability to enjoy the game.”