Many of us have heard a lot on the cable news channels about the importance of “precedent” in the law in recent years. Precedent is, of course, very important. It means that, generally, if past rulings said that a defendant was not liable in a particular set of circumstances, then you typically won’t win your case if the circumstances surrounding your injury were substantially similar to those past cases. Sometimes, though, the law should – and does – change. Just because previous injured people have lost their cases that seem similar to yours, that alone is not reason to give up on your case. Instead of giving up, discuss your situation with an experienced San Mateo injury attorney to find out if there may still be possibilities for success for you.
A recent case involving a baseball spectator is an example of how changing standards in an industry may mean a change in the law. S.J. was a 12-year-old girl attending a baseball game in Long Beach. She and her mother were seated just beyond the protective netting behind home plate. A foul ball struck the girl in the face, causing massive damage including a cranial hemorrhage and severe damage to her optic nerve. The girl required the insertion of a metal plate behind her eye, which was the first of several surgeries she would require to treat fully the harm caused by the foul ball.
Historically, baseball spectators who suffer injuries after a foul ball hits them have had very little success in personal injury lawsuits. That’s because of a legal concept called “assumption of risk.” That concept says that, if you voluntarily engage in an activity that carries with it certain inherent risks, then you become the person responsible for any harm occurring as a result of that activity. That has often included baseball spectators, as voluntarily choosing to attend a baseball game carries with it the inherent risk that a foul ball (or a homerun ball) might hit you and hurt you, meaning that the player, the league/association or the stadium owner were not responsible.
That rule exists because foul balls are an integral part of baseball and eliminating them would alter the fundamental nature of the game of baseball. This “Baseball Rule” had existed generally since 1925 and, in California, since 1935.
Sounds pretty intimidating if you’re the one hurt by a foul ball, doesn’t it?
Evolving safety standards and defeating an assumption of risk defense
However, this is one area where standards have come to evolve, and that evolution worked in S.J.’s favor in her lawsuit. The California Court of Appeal that considered her case pointed out that, in its 2019 Winter Meetings, Major League Baseball “announced that all 30 major league teams will expand the protective netting in their stadiums ‘substantially beyond the end of the dugout’ for the 2020 season and that seven or eight stadiums will run netting all the way to the foul poles.” On top of that, news sources reported that additional protective netting was being installed at many minor league stadiums.
That evidence showed that there were means to enhance spectator safety “without altering the nature of baseball as it is played today.” Under the standards of California injury law, that proof was enough to overcome an “assumption of the risk” defense and allow the girl to pursue her case.
Chances are, your case won’t involve a foul ball injury at a baseball stadium. Nevertheless, this girl’s case demonstrates a key idea, which is that evolving industry standards of safety may change the way the courts see your premises liability case. These changes can make your arguments stronger than others’ were in the past, or they may help you overcome an affirmative defense like assumption of risk. Either way, they may allow you to succeed where other have failed in the past.
The law is slow to change, but it is not immune to change. While it is always beneficial to have a surplus of previous precedential court rulings that support your position, the absence of such cases does not necessarily mean your injury case is doomed to fail. Before you decide about your situation, always get knowledgeable advice from experienced counsel. The skilled San Mateo injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Galine, Frye, Fitting & Frangos are here to provide you with that type of advice and the effective legal representation you need. To set up a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys and find out how we can help, contact us at 650-345-8484 or through our website.