Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, January 11, 2022


Page 1


C.A. Repudiates 1935 State Supreme Court Decision

Riverside-Based Panel Won’t Follow Holding That Spectator at Baseball Game Who Sits in Section Without Protective Netting Assumes Risk of Being Struck by Foul Ball; Declares ‘Baseball Rule’ Obsolete


By a MetNews Staff Writer


News and Analysis


Div. Two of the Fourth District Court of Appeal has reversed a summary judgment in favor of a private university in an action brought by a woman who was struck in the face by a foul ball while attending an intercollegiate baseball game, rejecting the trial judge’s view that the plaintiff had brought “a textbook primary assumption of the risk case” and repudiating a 1935 decision of the California Supreme Court.

The plaintiff maintains that her injuries stemmed from negligence because she was unprotected by netting. Such a contention was rejected by the state high court 86 years ago in Quinn v. Recreational Park Association which declared that only so much netting is required as the proprietor of a stadium would reasonably anticipate would be in demand by spectators.

Court of Appeal Justice Richard T. Fields authored Friday’s opinion which reinstates an action brought by Monica Mayes against La Sierra University, a private institution in Riverside run by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The opinion reverses a judgment by Riverside Superior Court Judge Daniel A. Ottolia.

“Mayes chose her seat, in an unscreened area along the third-base line, where she could see her son who was pitching for Marymount,” the visiting team, Fields noted, but said that triable issues nonetheless exist.

Rather than finding that there’s a triable issue as to whether La Sierra did supply as much netting as would be expected to be in demand—and Mayes argued that it did not—Fields’s opinion broadly rejects the “baseball rule,” applied in Quinn, declaring it to be obsolete.

Opinion in Quinn

In Quinn, the high court quoted, and adopted as its own, the opinion by the Court of Appeal which affirmed a directed verdict in favor of a ball club. The opinion says:

“With respect to the law governing cases of this kind, it has been generally held that one of the natural risks assumed by spectators attending professional games is that of being struck by batted or thrown balls; that the management is not required, nor does it undertake to insure patrons against injury from such source. All that is required is the exercise of ordinary care to protect patrons against such injuries…, and in doing so the management is not obliged to screen all seats, because, as pointed out by the decisions, many patrons prefer to sit where their view is not obscured by a screen.”

The opinion continues:

“Moreover, the management is not required to provide screened seats for all who may apply for them. The duty imposed by law is performed when screened seats are provided for as many as may be reasonably expected to call for them on any ordinary occasion…and if…a spectator chooses to occupy an unscreened seat, or…is unable to secure a screened seat and consequently occupies one that is not protected, he assumes the risk of being struck by thrown or batted balls; and if injured thereby is precluded from recovering damages therefor.”

Quinn thus establishes a duty to provide netting but limits that duty; it bars liability to a spectator who assumes a seat in an area not protected by netting.

Fields’s Opinion

Rejecting that view, Fields declared:

“The trial court…relied on the baseball rule…in granting La Sierra’s motion. But the baseball rule, which holds that spectators assume the risk of injury from foul balls if they chose to sit in unscreened seats, even if no screened seats are available…, is out of step with California’s primary assumption of risk doctrine.”

In support of that proposition, he cited an Aug. 31, 2017 opinion by his division in Grotheer v. Escape Adventures, Inc. The opinion in Grotheer, by Justice Marsha Slough, does not say that Quinn is “out of step” with current law; rather, agreeing with that decision, it cites it in support of the proposition that operators of sports events have “a duty to take reasonable steps to minimize the inherent risks of their activity.”

Fields then said:

“That is, the baseball rule does not account for the duties of owners and operators of sports venues to take reasonable steps to minimize the inherent risks of injury to their customers or spectators, if such steps can be taken without changing the nature of the sport or the activity.”

1992 Opinion

As support, he cited the California Supreme Court’s Aug. 24, 1992 plurality opinion in Knight v. Jewett. Then-Justice Ronald George (later chief justice, now retired) mentioned the holding in Quinn—not repudiating it—and citing, with approval, a 1938 Court of Appeal opinion which quoted the holding in Quinn and discerned from it this rule:

“[T]hose in charge of such games are not insurers of their patrons, that they are required to exercise ordinary care to protect their patrons from such injuries, that they are not required to screen all seats, and that they have met the burden thus resting upon them when they have provided a protected area sufficiently large to accommodate as many as may be reasonably expected to call for such protection.”

George considered how the doctrine of assumption of the risk is affected by the court’s 1975 rejection in Li v. Yellow Cab of the traditional view that contributory negligence bars recovery. He declared that in primary assumption of the risk cases, where the defendant owes no duty to the plaintiff, comparative fault does not come into play; in secondary assumption of the risk cases, where the defendant does have a duty, comparative fault principles do apply.

Two justices signed George’s opinion, and one other agreed with that proposition.

Six justices agreed that summary judgment was properly granted in favor of a defendant who bumped into a plaintiff, injuring her, during a backyard game of touch football.

Two Other Cases

Quinn has been cited only two other times by the state Supreme Court:  in a 1968 case that did not involve a sporting activity and in the April 6, 2006 opinion by then-Justice Kathryn Werdegar in Avila v. Citrus Community College District which dealt with a college’s duty to visiting players. Werdegar cited Quinn as representing the “traditional version of the assumption of risk doctrine required proof that the plaintiff voluntarily accepted a specific known and appreciated risk.”

The opinion, which finds no breach of a duty of care to a batter for the visiting team who was struck in the head by a pitched ball, does not indicate disapproval of Quinn.

Two federal cases have cited Quinn. Based on it, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Nov. 16, 2016, observed that “defendants are correct that California and a majority of states follow the ‘Baseball Rule,’ which limits the duty of care that stadium owners and operators owe to spectators,” and the District Court for South Carolina on June 7, 1994 said: “The overwhelming weight of authority from other jurisdictions holds that baseball patrons assume the risk of being struck at games.”

Perluss’s Opinion

Fields relied heavily on last year’s opinion by Court of Appeal Presiding Justice Dennis Perluss in Summer J. v. United States Baseball Federation. While that decisionwhich reversed a judgment of dismissal in an action based on inadequate netting—deviated from Quinn, it did not purport to repudiate the 1935 decision by a higher court. In a footnote, it embraced the case, saying:

“That a stadium operator has no duty of any sort to protect spectators from foul balls, as argued by [defendant] US Baseball, has never been the law in California. The Supreme Court in Quinn v. Recreation Park Assn…., more than 50 years before Knight, held stadium management had a duty of ordinary care that was satisfied by providing screened seats for as many spectators as may be reasonably expected to ask for those seats on any ordinary occasion.”

The California Supreme Court declared in its March 22, 1962 decision in Auto Equity Sales, Inc. v. Superior Court that “decisions of this court are binding upon and must be followed by all the state courts of California.” Div. One of the Court of Appeal for this district in 2014 echoed in Regent Alliance Ltd. v. Rabizadeh: “The Court of Appeal cannot overrule the Supreme Court.”

Fields’s opinion came in Mayes v. La Sierra University, 2022 S.O.S. 66.

Joseph Di Monda of the Manhattan Beach firm of Angelo & Di Monda represented Mayes and Ted M. Lee and Charles F. Nikolenko of The Lee Law Group in Irvine acted for the university.


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