Martinez v. Houston Mclane Co.

Decision Date12 March 2013
Docket NumberNo. 01–12–00433–CV.,01–12–00433–CV.
Citation414 S.W.3d 219
PartiesShirley MARTINEZ and Richard Martinez, Appellants v. HOUSTON McLANE COMPANY, LLC d/b/a/ Houston Astros Baseball Club, Appellee.
CourtTexas Court of Appeals


Edward A. Mattingly, Brandon A. Kinard, Mattingly Law Firm, Houston, TX, for Appellants.

Jeffrey S. Davis, Mike Seely, Gardere Wynne Sewell LLP, Houston, TX, for Appellee.

Panel consists of Chief Justice RADACK and Justices HIGLEY and BROWN.



Shirley and Richard Martinez appeal from the trial court's summary judgment on their premises liability and negligence claims against Houston McLane Company, LLC d/b/a Houston Astros Baseball Club. We affirm the trial court's judgment.


Shirley Martinez was hit and injured by a batting practice home run before a Houston Astros home game at Minute Maid Park. Leading up to the game, she requested and the Astros donated 250 tickets to benefit members of the 72nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, a division of the Texas National Guard, and their families. The Astros selected the seat area, Section 153, and donated the tickets to the Texas National Guard Family Support Foundation. These seats are bleacher field level behind the right field wall, which is an area where a fly ball hit during the game would be a home run. Section 153 is not protected by a screen. There is no map or diagram located outside or in the stadium that identifies the section as unprotected.

Martinez and her husband, a member of the Brigade, arrived at the game almost an hour early. From where they entered the stadium, the lack of screening is not visible until a spectator locates the general area of the seats and looks across the field. She did not request seats in a particular section or seats in a screened area. Nor was she told by the Astros that Section 153 was not screened. The Astros web site also did not identify the areas that were protected or unprotected by screens. Minute Made Park has a seating capacity of almost 41,000 seats, of which over 5,000 (or almost one-eighth) are shielded by a protective screen behind home plate.

After entering the stadium, Martinez walked to Section 153 while accompanied by five children of military families she was caring for, including one young child she pushed in a stroller. The players were participating in batting practice at the time. As she was about to descend the stairs to her seat from the concourse, she was stopped by an usher who informed her that she could not take a stroller down to the seats; rather, the stroller had to be stored in a different, designated section of the stadium.1 Instead of taking the stroller to the storage area, she left the stroller at the top of the aisle and escorted the four older children down to the seats. After seating the four children and arranging for another adult to watch them while she took the young child and stroller to the storage area, she began ascending the stairs while carrying the young child. While her attention was focused on climbing the stairs and her back was to the playing field, she heard someone yell a warning that a fly ball was coming toward her. She shielded the child with her arms and was struck in the face by the ball. She suffered an orbital fracture and corneal laceration.

Martinez and her husband sued the Astros for negligence and premises liability. The Astros moved for a traditional summary judgment on all the Martinezes' claims, which the trial court granted. This appeal ensued.

Standard of Review

We review a trial court's summary judgment de novo. Travelers Ins. Co. v. Joachim, 315 S.W.3d 860, 862 (Tex.2010); Mann Frankfort Stein & Lipp Advisors, Inc. v. Fielding, 289 S.W.3d 844, 848 (Tex.2009). In conducting our review, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, crediting evidence favorable to that party if reasonable jurors could and disregarding contrary evidence unless reasonable jurors could not. Fielding, 289 S.W.3d at 848. When, as here, the trial court's summary judgment order does not specify the grounds on which it was granted, we must affirm the order if any of the asserted grounds for summary judgment are meritorious. W. Invs., Inc. v. Urena, 162 S.W.3d 547, 550 (Tex.2005).

On a motion for traditional summary judgment, the movant has the burden to show that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. SeeTex.R. Civ. P. 166a(c); KPMG Peat Marwick v. Harrison Cnty. Hous. Fin. Corp., 988 S.W.2d 746, 748 (Tex.1999). The movant may satisfy this burden by conclusively negating at least one essential element of each of the plaintiff's causes of action. Sci. Spectrum, Inc. v. Martinez, 941 S.W.2d 910, 911 (Tex.1997).

Standard of Care/Protective Screening
1. Stadium owners and operators owe a limited duty

This Court held in Friedman v. Houston Sports Association, 731 S.W.2d 572, 573 (Tex.App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 1987, writ ref'd n.r.e.), that a stadium owner owes only a limited duty to spectators to protect them from baseballs hit into the stands. Under the limited duty, the stadium owner must provide “adequately screened seats” for all those who wish to sit behind a screen. 2Friedman followed a line of Texas cases refusing to impose a duty on stadium owners to screen all seats or to warn about foul balls.3 The Fort Worth Court of Appeals relied on Friedman's holding two years later.4 Thus, the “baseball rule,” as this limited duty is often referred to,5 is well established in Texas.

The Martinezes ask us to overrule established precedent and abolish the baseball rule. They contend that it is a “bad rule” providing an “undeserved shield” to stadium owners and does not reflect the realities of baseball in “the modern era.” They argue that stadium owners' limited duty is an outgrowth of “the old discarded” assumption-of-the-risk-rule and that [t]he Texas comparative negligence scheme is well-equipped to examine the actions and inactions of all parties in determining each party's level of culpability.” We decline to overrule precedent following the baseball rule for three reasons.

First, the doctrine of stare decisis creates a strong presumption that precedents should be followed to foster “efficiency, fairness, and legitimacy.” 6 If courts did not follow precedent, “no issue could ever be considered resolved. The potential volume of speculative relitigation under such circumstances alone ought to persuade us that stare decisis is a sound policy.” 7 Stare decisis is important to “give due consideration to the settled expectations of litigants ... who have justifiably relied on” precedent.8 Stare decisis “results in predictability in the law, which allows people to rationally order their conduct and affairs.” 9 That interest is particularly acute here, since the rule announced in Friedman also arose out of a spectator's injuries from a fly ball at an Astros game. Moreover, the rule has been in effect “since the early days of modern baseball.” 10 The Astros, therefore, had good reason to rely on this rule in making decisions about protective screening.

While the Martinezes argue that these precedents are not binding because they conflict with subsequent case developments, we disagree. The first of these developments—Texas's adoption of a comparative negligence scheme—does not justify us overruling Friedman because in that same case our court specifically rejected the plaintiff's contention that the limited-duty rule should be rejected in favor of comparative negligence.11 Other courts have also held that the baseball rule has a sound basis despite the abolition of the assumption-of-the-risk doctrine.12

The second of the legal developments relied upon by the Martinezes—the Texas Supreme Court's abolition of the no-duty rule in 1978 13—is also not a solid ground for displacing this line of cases because the baseball rule does not abolish a duty. As stated by the Fort Worth Court of Appeals in rejecting a similar argument, “a stadium owner does have a duty,” 14 albeit a limited one. As described by the Michigan Court of Appeals, the baseball rule does not abrogate premises liability principles; rather, it identifies the stadium owner's duty “with greater specificity than the usual” premises liability standards.15 As explained by the New Jersey Supreme Court, the baseball rule “establishes a fact-specific standard of care for injuries caused by errant balls at baseball stadiums by accounting for the open and obvious nature of the risk that batted balls pose to fans.” 16 The limited duty doctrine establishes the ‘outer limits' of liability” 17 and allows the stadium owner to “fulfill[ ] its duty of care as a matter of law.” 18

Second, these precedents are not out of step with modern developments in the law. The rule recognized by Texas courts is the majority rule. 19 It continues to be applied by courts across the country in the last twelve years.20 After weighing many of these policies, at least two state legislatures have likewise recognized that stadium owners and operators owe a limited duty.21

Third, we do not overrule long-settled precedent and create a split between sister courts of concurrent appellate jurisdiction “unless there is an extremely compelling reason to do so.” 22 No compelling reasons exist here. On the contrary, these precedents and legislative acts are supported by public policy considerations that strike a balance among multiple interests and presumptions about attendance at a baseball game. First, there is the interest of fans who desire the intimate feeling from sitting as close to the action as possible with the possibility of snagging a ball.23 Second, there is the interest of fans who want protection from injury due to wayward balls.24 Third, the risk of injury from a ball is considered an inherent risk of the game.25 Fourth, most fans who attend the games are aware that objects may leave the playing field...

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