In the case of Thurmond v. Prince William Baseball Club, INC., No. 020116 (Va. 1/10/2003) the Virginia state supreme court was asked whether a spectator at a minor league baseball game assumed the risk of being struck by a batted foul ball. In resolving this question for the first time, the Virginia high court found a general consensus among courts in other jurisdictions that had considered the issue. As a general rule of law in most jurisdictions, the Virginia supreme court noted that stadium owners or operators of ballfields owe spectators only a "limited duty" of care "to screen the area behind home plate and to offer a sufficient amount of seating for spectators who reasonably may be anticipated to request protected seats in the course of an ordinary game." In this case, the state supreme court had to determine whether to adopt this majority rule in Virginia.
In August 1997, the plaintiff attended a night baseball game at G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium in Prince William County to see the Prince William Cannons. The Cannons are a Class A minor league professional baseball team affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals, which contracted with the Cannons to provide the Cannons with players and coaches as part of the Cardinals' player-development program.
In the stadium, spectators were warned of the risk of being struck by objects batted or thrown from the field. Warning signs, measuring three feet by three feet, were posted at entrances to the seating areas. These signs stated: "Be Alert! Objects batted or thrown into the stands may be dangerous." All persons entering the stadium walked past one of these entrances, regardless of the location of their seats.
In addition, the back of each admission ticket contained a printed warning that stated, in part:
The holder of this ticket assumes all risk
and danger incidental to the game of
baseball ... including specifically (but
not exclusively) the danger of being
injured by thrown bats, thrown or batted
balls.... and agrees that the participating
clubs or their officials, agents and
players are not liable for injury related
from such causes.
Twenty to 30 seats were reserved for each game in the screened area behind home plate for spectators who requested to be reseated because they weren't comfortable sitting in the unscreened areas of the stadium.
Thurmond sat with her family and friends high in the bleachers on the third base side of the stadium. This was Thurmond's first visit to the stadium, and she didn't know that she could have requested a seat in the screened area behind home plate. She also didn't read the warning printed on the back of the admission ticket because she never had possession of her ticket, which her friends had given to her husband. However, Thurmond remained alert at all times during the game, watching the hitters and batted baseballs.
During the eighth inning, a line drive foul ball was batted toward Thurmond. Although Thurmond saw the baseball approaching, it was moving too rapidly to allow her to take any evasive action. The ball struck Thurmond directly on the right side of her face, and she sustained various injuries, including fractures of her facial bones, damage to her right eye socket and extensive nerve damage.
Allegations of Negligence
Thurmond sued the Cannons, alleging that she was injured as a result of the team's negligence in failing to provide adequate warnings at the stadium and to operate and maintain the stadium in a safe condition to prevent injuries to invitees. In response, the Cannons filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Thurmond assumed the risk of injury as a matter of law when she chose to sit in an unscreened area of the stadium. (In a motion for summary judgment, the Cannons asked the trial court to rule that there was no legal basis for liability and dismiss Thurmond's claims without a trial. …