Vehicles Damaged by Foul Balls: Does General Liability Cover?

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Smashed windshields and dents are a common occurrence at ballparks.

The windshield of a spectator who parked outside of your baseball field was smashed by a foul ball. The spectator presents a $450 bill to the league president asking for reimbursement. Your baseball league carries a General Liability policy through a reputable carrier, so there is no doubt that the insurance carrier will pay the bill, right?

Well, probably not. Here’s why.

General Liability responds to certain claims of negligence, but…

In brief, General Liability policies respond to allegations of negligence and resulting damages to a third party arising from “bodily injury” or “property damage” caused by an “occurrence” that is not subject to the policy exclusions.

In the case of a vehicle damage claim, the coverage requirements for an “occurrence” and “property damage” are met. And, there are no exclusions that are likely to apply in this scenario. But, the question remains whether or not negligence was involved and if there are any defenses.

Under the law of negligence, in order to prevail, the injured party must prove the following four elements:

  1. Duty of care owed to spectator
  2. Duty breached by failure to operate as a reasonable and prudent league
  3. The breach of duty caused the injury
  4. Damages can be proven.

If anyone of these elements can be defeated, a claimant technically can’t prevail under the law of negligence. But it gets a little more complicated when certain legal defenses can be used by the league, such as assumption of a known risk.

Assumption of a known risk defense

Under the assumption of risk defense, an injured party (such as a spectator) can’t prevail if he or she has assumed a known risk that is an inherent part of the activity. The reason for this legal defense is because the courts want to provide an incentive for the public to protect themselves in situations where they know they are subjected to risk. The assumption-of-known-risk doctrine applies not only to damaged vehicles, but also to spectators injured by foul balls under the baseball rule.

In the case of cars parked near a baseball field, fact situations exist where the vehicle driver/owner assumes a known risk. As a result, the claim will likely be denied. Likewise, fact situations exist where the driver/owner does not assume a known risk. That claim will likely be paid.

We conducted a study of a large baseball association client where member leagues incurred many vehicle damage claims over the past five years. Below we share some of the findings. As a rule of thumb, the determination of coverage by the claims adjuster depends on the relationship between the driver/owner of the vehicle and the league, and their reason for parking.

19 Cases where the damage to vehicle claim was paid (no assumption of risk)

  • Car owned by a neighbor and parked in his yard next to ball field.
  • Vehicle parked at the ball field while owner attended an educational class in the nearby gym.
  • Car parked at ball field while the owner attended a function not related to the baseball game.
  • Automobile parked in front of owner’s home close to field.
  • Car parked across the street from ball field when hit by foul ball.
  • Non-patron’s car hit by foul ball.
  • Car hit while the owner was playing tennis nearby.
  • Vehicle parked along street when hit by foul ball.
  • Claimant attending a soccer game when his car was damaged by a baseball.
  • Non-patron’s car hit by foul ball.
  • Passerby’s vehicle hit while driving down street.
  • Foul ball smashed windshield of car parked across street.
  • Non-patron vehicle rear windshield struck by foul ball.
  • Claimant parked car at unoccupied field prior to game taking place.
  • Passerby car struck by foul ball
  • Claimant parked and attending a basketball game when his car was struck by baseball.
  • Foul ball struck car driving down street.
  • Claimant parked on street while attending church when car was damaged by a baseball.

What do all of these claims have in common? The owner/driver of the vehicle was not attending the baseball game at the time the vehicle was damaged. Since they were not attending the ball game, they did not assume a known risk.

5 Cases where the vehicle damage claim was not paid (assumption of risk)

  • Claimant was watching the baseball game when his car was damaged by a foul ball.
  • Umpire was officiating a baseball game when his car was struck.
  • Player’s car damaged by foul ball while he was playing in game.
  • Spectator was watching game when foul ball shattered his windshield.
  • Spectator’s car was damaged by foul ball while in attendance at game.

What is the common denominator when the vehicle damage claims are denied under the assumption of risk doctrine? In these cases, the driver of the vehicle was either participating as a spectator, player, or umpire. This group of individuals should know, based on their own experience, that foul balls and home runs are a part of the game and the risks involved to parked cars.

Are there exceptions that might be considered on a case by case basis? Some claims adjusters may reach a different conclusion. For example, when a handicapped participant or spectator is directed to park in a specified handicapped parking space.

Foul ball damage to vehiclesThe role of signage

To temper the expectations of spectators and other participants, prudent league operators and facility owners should consider posting signage warning of such risks. Examples include: “Park At Your Own Risk: Foul Balls and Home Runs May Strike Vehicles” or “FOUL BALL WARNING! Vehicles Parked In This Lot Assume Any And All Liability For Damages Caused By Foul Balls. PARK AT YOUR OWN RISK. However, such signage is not a requirement to trigger an assumption of risk defense.

If you found this article to be beneficial, be sure to check out our entire risk management content library and our searchable sports insurance blog for other important information on how to better protect your sports organization.

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