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Justices end suit against Gary Railcats over foul-ball injury

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A fan who suffered fractured facial bones and was blinded in one eye after she was struck by a foul ball at a Gary SouthShore Railcats baseball game may not proceed with a lawsuit against the team, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Friday.

Justices reversed Lake Superior Judge Calvin Hawkins’ denial of a motion for summary judgment sought by the team. Hawkins granted the team’s request for an interlocutory appeal.

The ruling in  South Shore Baseball, LLC d/b/a Gary South Shore RailCats and Northwest Sports Venture, LLC v. Juanita DeJesus, 45S03-1308-CT-531, puts an end to litigation stemming from DeJesus’ injury that happened more than five years ago.

Justice Mark Massa wrote in a unanimous opinion that the court declined to find a special limited duty beyond the principles of premises liability that govern stadiums and franchises.

The court noted that the ticket, printed notices at the stadium and an announcer’s admonition to fans all alerted them that objects would leave the field of play.

The court’s ruling aligns with a prior Court of Appeals ruling that also found judgment in favor of the team was proper, particularly in light of the Supreme Court’s contemporaneous ruling in Pfenning v. Lineman, 947 N.E.2d 392 (Ind. 2011). There, the court ordered judgment in favor of a golf course after a woman driving a golf cart suffered injuries when she was struck in the face by a flying golf ball.

While finding for the team, the court declined amicus Indianapolis Indians’ request that the court adopt the so-called “Baseball Rule,” which generally states that baseball teams and ballparks that provide screening behind home plate have satisfied liability duties. DeJesus’ injury came as she sat in the stands just outside the protective screening behind home plate.

DeJesus’ claim fails as a matter of law, Massa wrote, “because she does not allege an increased risk of harm and cannot establish reliance. In her deposition, DeJesus testified she had seen foul balls enter the stands at RailCats games before. She even admitted she knew, when she was sitting in her seat, “there could be a chance that the ball could come that way.”


 

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