Akins v. Glens Falls City School Dist.

CourtNew York Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtJASEN; COOKE; GABRIELLI, JONES and WACHTLER, JJ., concur with JASEN; COOKE
Citation53 N.Y.2d 325,424 N.E.2d 531,441 N.Y.S.2d 644
Parties, 424 N.E.2d 531 Robin AKINS, Respondent, v. GLENS FALLS CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, Appellant.
Decision Date18 June 1981

Page 644

441 N.Y.S.2d 644
53 N.Y.2d 325, 424 N.E.2d 531
Robin AKINS, Respondent,
v.
GLENS FALLS CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT, Appellant.
Court of Appeals of New York.
June 18, 1981.

Peter D. FitzGerald, Glens Falls, for appellant.

Robert S. Stewart, Glens Falls, for respondent.

OPINION OF THE COURT

JASEN, Judge.

On this appeal, we are called upon to define the scope of the duty owed by a

Page 645

proprietor of a baseball field to the spectators attending its games. The specific question presented is whether such an owner, having provided protective screening for the area behind home plate, is liable in negligence for the injuries sustained by a spectator as a result of being struck by a foul ball while standing in an unscreened section of the field. This case does not involve the "culpable conduct" (CPLR 1411)--be it assumption of risk or contributory negligence--of a spectator injured in the course of a baseball game.

In the early afternoon of April 14, 1976, plaintiff attended a high school baseball game that was being played on a field owned and maintained by defendant Glens Falls City School District. The field was equipped with a backstop 24 feet high and 50 feet wide. This backstop was located 60 feet behind home plate and was positioned in front of bleachers that could seat approximately 120 adults. There was additional standing room behind the backstop as well. Two chain link fences, three feet in height, ran from each end of the backstop along the base lines to a distance approximately 60 feet behind first and third base.

Plaintiff arrived while the game was in progress and elected to view the contest from a position behind the three-foot fence along the third base line, approximately 10 to 15 feet from the end of the backstop and 60 feet from home plate. As there were no seating facilities for spectators along the base lines, plaintiff had to stand in order to watch the game. At the time, other spectators were also standing along the base lines behind the three-foot fence. There was, however, no proof that the screened bleachers behind home plate were filled or that plaintiff was prevented from watching the game from behind the backstop. Approximately 10 minutes after arriving at the baseball field, plaintiff was struck in the eye by a sharply hit foul ball, causing her serious and permanent injury.

The present action was then commenced by the plaintiff against the defendant school district. Alleging that the school district was negligent in failing to provide safe and proper screening devices along the base lines of its field, plaintiff sought judgment against the school district in the sum of $250,000. After trial, the jury returned a verdict in plaintiff's favor, assessing damages in the amount of $100,000 and apportioning fault at 65% to the school district and 35% to plaintiff.

On appeal, a divided Appellate Division, 75 A.D.2d 239, 429 N.Y.S.2d 467 affirmed the judgment rendered in plaintiff's favor, one Justice concurring in result and two Justices dissenting. The majority held that there was no error of law which warranted disturbing the jury's verdict. The dissenters were of the view that, as a matter of law, there was no showing of any negligence on the school district's part. According to the dissent, "adequately screened the area of its ball park behind home plate, the defendant fulfilled its duty to the plaintiff and cannot be held in negligence when she herself selected a position that was outside the area screened." (75 A.D.2d, p. 243, 429 N.Y.S.2d 467.) We agree.

Cases involving the liability of an owner of a baseball field for the injuries sustained by those attending its games are not altogether foreign to the courts of this State. Indeed, the doctrine of assumption of risk has had extensive application in a number of cases involving spectators struck by misguided baseballs. (E. g., O'Bryan v. O'Connor, 59 A.D.2d 219, 399 N.Y.S.2d 272; Dillard v. Little League Baseball, 55 A.D.2d 477, 390 N.Y.S.2d 735; Kozera v. Town of Hamburg, 40 A.D.2d 934, 337 N.Y.S.2d 761; Barker v. Topping, 15 A.D.2d 193, 222 N.Y.S.2d 658; Zeitz v. Cooperstown Baseball Centennial, 31 Misc.2d 142, 29 N.Y.S.2d 56; cf. Cadieux v. Board of Educ., 25 A.D.2d 579, 266 N.Y.S.2d 895; Ingersoll v. Onondaga Hockey Club, 245 App.Div. 137, 281 N.Y.S. 505.) As was aptly summarized by Chief Judge Cardozo, the spectator at a sporting event, no less than the participant, "accepts the dangers that inhere in it so far as they are obvious and necessary, just as a fencer accepts the risk of a thrust by his antagonist or a spectator at a ball game the

Page 646

chance of contact with the ball * * * The timorous may stay at home." (Murphy v. Steeplechase Amusement Co., 250 N.Y. 479, 482-483, 166 N.E. 173.) However, because these cases arose prior to the adoption of the comparative negligence rule in this State (CPLR 1411), application of the assumption of risk doctrine served as a complete bar to a plaintiff's cause of action without regard to the degree of care exercised by the owner of the ball park. As a result, aside from two lower court decisions (Adonnino v. Village of Mount Morris, 171 Misc. 383, 12 N.Y.S.2d 658; Blackhall v. Capital Dist. Baseball Ass'n, 154 Misc. 640, 278 N.Y.S. 649, affd 157 Misc. 801, 285 N.Y.S. 695), there is no case law in this State which defines the duty of care owed by a proprietor of a baseball field to its spectators. We now define that duty.

At the outset, it should be stated that an owner of a baseball field is not an insurer of the safety of its spectators. Rather, like any other owner or occupier of land, it is only under a duty to exercise "reasonable care under the circumstances" to prevent injury to those who come to watch the games played on its field. (Basso v. Miller, 40 N.Y.2d 233, 386 N.Y.S.2d 564, 352 N.E.2d 868; Scurti v. City of New York, 40 N.Y.2d 433, 387 N.Y.S.2d 55, 354 N.E.2d 794.) The perils of the game of baseball, however, are not so imminent that due care on the part of the owner requires that the entire playing field be screened. Indeed, many spectators prefer to sit where their view of the game is unobstructed by fences or protective netting and the proprietor of a ball park has a legitimate interest in catering to these desires. Thus, the critical question becomes what amount of screening must be provided by an owner of a baseball field before it will be found to have discharged its duty of care to its spectators.

Other jurisdictions addressing this question have adopted various standards in defining the duty of a ball park proprietor to protect its spectators from stray balls. Some courts have held that an owner merely has a duty to screen such seats as are adequate to provide its spectators with an opportunity to sit in a protected area if they so desire. (E. g., Crane v. Kansas City Baseball & Exhibition Co., 168 Mo.App. 301, 153 S.W. 1076; McNiel v. Fort Worth Baseball Club, 268 S.W.2d 244 Other courts have stated that a proprietor of a baseball field need only screen as many seats as may reasonably be expected to be applied for on an ordinary occasion by those desiring such protection. (Quinn v. Recreation Park Ass'n, 3 Cal.2d 725, 46 P.2d 144; Leek v. Tacoma Baseball Club, 38 Wash.2d 362, 229 P.2d 329.) Most courts, however, have adopted a two-prong standard in defining the scope of an owner's duty to provide protective screening for its patrons. Under the majority rule, the owner must screen the most dangerous section of the field--the area behind home plate--and the screening that is provided must be sufficient for those spectators who may be reasonably anticipated to desire protected seats on an ordinary occasion. (E. g., Maytnier v. Rush, 80 Ill.App.2d 336, 225 N.E.2d 83; Brisson v. Minneapolis Baseball & Athletic Ass'n, 185 Minn. 507, 240 N.W. 903; Erickson v. Lexington Baseball Club, 233 N.C. 627, 65 S.E.2d 140; see, generally, Liability to Spectator at Baseball Game Who Is Hit by Ball or Injured As Result of Other Hazards of Game, Ann., 91 A.L.R.3d 24.) We believe this to be the better rule and adopt this definition of the duty owed by an owner of a baseball field to provide protective screening for its spectators.

We hold that, in the exercise of reasonable care, the proprietor of a ball park need only provide screening for the area of the field behind home plate where the danger of being struck by a ball is the greatest. Moreover, such screening must be of sufficient extent to provide adequate protection for as many spectators as may reasonably be expected to desire such seating in the course...

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    ...claims, the City was required to show that it suffered an injury actionable under New York law. See Akins v. Glens Falls City Sch. Dist., 53 N.Y.2d 325, 333, 441 N.Y.S.2d 644, 424 N.E.2d 531 (1981) (noting that injury is an element of a negligence claim); Copart Indus. v. Consolidated Ediso......
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    ...” [881 F.Supp.2d 594]Alfaro v. Wal–Mart Stores, Inc., 210 F.3d 111, 114 (2d Cir.2000) (quoting Akins v. Glens Falls City Sch. Dist., 53 N.Y.2d 325, 333, 441 N.Y.S.2d 644, 424 N.E.2d 531 (1981)). In this case, “[t]he ‘duty’ element of these two causes of action requires the same inquiry.” Mu......
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    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of New York
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    ...(2) a breach of this duty; and (3) injury to the plaintiff as a result[.]" Akins v. Glens Falls City School Dist., 53 N.Y.S.2d 325, 333, 424 N.E.2d 531, 535 (1981). A medical malpractice claim requires a showing of "(1) a deviation or departure from accepted practice, and (2) evidence that ......
  • Stagl v. Delta Airlines, Inc., No. 423
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • April 17, 1995
    ...N.E. at 1101-02 (Knowlton, J., dissenting). Although vestiges of this polemic survive, see, e.g., Akins v. Glens Falls City School Dist., 53 N.Y.2d 325, 441 N.Y.S.2d 644, 424 N.E.2d 531 (1981) (concluding, over strong dissent, that the installation of a standard backstop fence fulfills a ba......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
359 cases
  • In re Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (“MTBE”) Prods. Liab. Litig., Docket Nos. 10–4135–cv, 10–4329–cv.
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • July 26, 2013
    ...claims, the City was required to show that it suffered an injury actionable under New York law. See Akins v. Glens Falls City Sch. Dist., 53 N.Y.2d 325, 333, 441 N.Y.S.2d 644, 424 N.E.2d 531 (1981) (noting that injury is an element of a negligence claim); Copart Indus. v. Consolidated Ediso......
  • Muller–Paisner v. Tiaa, No. 03 Civ. 6265(GWG).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • August 9, 2012
    ...” [881 F.Supp.2d 594]Alfaro v. Wal–Mart Stores, Inc., 210 F.3d 111, 114 (2d Cir.2000) (quoting Akins v. Glens Falls City Sch. Dist., 53 N.Y.2d 325, 333, 441 N.Y.S.2d 644, 424 N.E.2d 531 (1981)). In this case, “[t]he ‘duty’ element of these two causes of action requires the same inquiry.” Mu......
  • Zikianda v. Cnty. of Albany, 1:12-CV-1194
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of New York
    • September 15, 2015
    ...(2) a breach of this duty; and (3) injury to the plaintiff as a result[.]" Akins v. Glens Falls City School Dist., 53 N.Y.S.2d 325, 333, 424 N.E.2d 531, 535 (1981). A medical malpractice claim requires a showing of "(1) a deviation or departure from accepted practice, and (2) evidence that ......
  • Stagl v. Delta Airlines, Inc., No. 423
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Second Circuit
    • April 17, 1995
    ...N.E. at 1101-02 (Knowlton, J., dissenting). Although vestiges of this polemic survive, see, e.g., Akins v. Glens Falls City School Dist., 53 N.Y.2d 325, 441 N.Y.S.2d 644, 424 N.E.2d 531 (1981) (concluding, over strong dissent, that the installation of a standard backstop fence fulfills a ba......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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