Who is at fault for damage to my car parked at a ball field?
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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021
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The legal obligation to pay for damages is called liability. Liability in almost all cases depends on fault, or doing something wrong. Fault is based on either an intentional bad act (e.g.vandalism) or negligence, which is unreasonable carelessness. If there is no intentional wrongdoing and no negligence, there is no fault and therefore no liability.
There’s also a doctrine called assumption of the risk, which means that certain activities have inherent risks, and if you choose to do them, you might not be able to recover compensation for the normal, foreseeable risks. There will still usually be some basic precautions the property owner must take, but as long as he takes them, he will be insulated from much liability. In terms of safety inside a park or near a ball field, this may having some fence, backstop, etc.—though a ball field would not be expected to have one that prevented players and spectators from enjoying the game. Outside the field, a common precaution is to see signs warning drivers of the risks of falling balls.
In addition, there’s a doctrine called “comparative” (or in many states, the similar-but-not-identical “contributory”) negligence, which basically that means that even if you suffered injury or property damage, to the extent it’s your fault, you may not be able to recover. That’s because you contributed to the loss, and it’s not fair to make others pay for your actions.
Suppose a ball is hit into a vehicle parked near a ball field. A known risk of parking near a ball field is that a ball could hit the car; therefore, there’s an element of assumption of the risk. If the driver parked particularly close to the game, or where there’s no backstop, etc. to stop the ball, he or she may be comparatively negligent as well.
On the other hand, if the players are simply playing normally—they’re not drunk, they’re not reckless or wild, they’re not deliberately damaging property—they are almost certainly not being negligent, or unreasonably careless.
In a negligence claim, there must be some duty owed to the injured party. No court has simply implied a duty to any sports facility without unique facts. So, with an absence of some wrongdoing—and given also potential assumption of risk, and even possible comparative or contributory negligence—it remains highly unlikely that the field, team, or player(s) would be liable for any damage done to a vehicle near a ball field.
Courts, such as in this Ohio Court ruling, have expressly rejected liability:
“It is well settled that spectators attending baseball games who are injured by batted balls flying into the stands are denied recovery based on the primary assumption of the risk doctrine. The following standard was enunciated in Cincinnati Baseball Club Co., 112 Ohio St. 175, 147 N.E. 86, in regard to the Spectators’ assumption of the risk at a baseball game. The consensus of *** opinions is to the effect that it is common knowledge that in baseball games hard balls are thrown and batted with great swiftness, that they are liable to be thrown or batted outside the limits of the diamond, and that spectators in positions which may be reached by such balls assume the risk thereof” at 180-181. Furthermore, in Borchers v. Winzler Excavating Co. (1992), 83 Ohio App. 3d 268, 273, 614 N.E. 2d 1065, the court stated: “In baseball games, management performs its duty towards spectators when it provides screened seats in the grandstand and gives spectators the opportunity of occupying them. Cincinnati Baseball Club (cite omitted).”Liu v. Ohio Univ., 2010-Ohio- 4581.]