Sports Law • Risk Management

Baseball Fan Falls to His Death

It is fairly routine that baseball players will flip balls into the waiting hands of spectators in the stands, but it is unusual that such a routine act would be the catalyst in a tragedy. Texas Rangers center fielder, Josh Hamilton, performed such a routine act by tossing a dead ball towards some fans, but the ball fell short of penetrating the stands. Shannon Stone, a spectator at the game, reached over the railing for the ball, lost his balance and fell head first twenty feet to the ground. Stone’s young son had attended the game with his father and was witness to the entire unfortunate incident. Although Stone was reportedly coherent immediately following the accident, he later died in the hospital.

Yahoo! Sports reported today that this is the second accident of a fan falling and hitting his head after attempting to catch a foul ball at Rangers Ballpark this year. This begs the question if the Rangers were then put on notice the risk of spectators trying to catch airborne baseballs. It is certainly foreseeable that a fan would try to catch a foul ball, or ball that is tossed into the stands by a player.

What’s most disturbing about this particular incident is that Stone fell in a gap between the seating and a scoreboard. Why does such a gap exist? Even if the facility crew needs access behind the scoreboards, a permanent, solid-structured cover could be installed to prevent such a fall. Perhaps the roofless gap is meant to deter spectators from climbing onto the scoreboard giving them better access to the outfield. If this is the case, then at least a strong netting could be installed to catch fans or other debris that might likely fall in this gap. Furthermore, security should always be strategically placed to monitor the behavior and actions of all the fans.

Although spectators reaching over banisters to reach for flying foul balls cannot easily be controlled, players can be banned from intentionally tossing baseballs to people in the stands. This will at least reduce the likelihood of spectator incidents reaching or fighting to gain possession of baseballs touched by celebrity athletes. Although it is difficult to prevent all falls within a stadium, this particular fall seems to be a strategic error in facility design or an error in implementing safety measures to protect fans from this foreseeable tragedy. Hopefully Rangers will make a suitable remedy to prevent a similar incident from occurring in the future.