HOUSTON (CN) - The Houston Astros are not liable for a batted ball that broke a woman's eye socket, a Texas appeals court ruled, finding that their stadium has an adequate number of screened seats.
Shirley Martinez had been at the game after persuading the club to donate 250 seats to the Texas National Guard brigade of which her husband is a member.
Accompanied by her husband and five military kids in her care, including a baby in a stroller, Martinez arrived at Minute Maid Park about an hour early while the teams were taking batting practice.
An usher refused to let Martinez walk down to her seat behind the right field wall in section 153, however, with the stroller.
Martinez then picked up the baby and walked down to the seats with the other kids. As she walked back up with the baby, someone yelled that a fly ball was coming at her. Martinez shielded the child with her arms and body, and the ball hit her face, breaking her eye socket and lacerating her cornea.
She and her husband sued the Houston McClane Company LLC dba Houston Astros Baseball Club for negligence and premises liability.
A Harris County judge dismissed the suit, however, and the Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas affirmed.
The three-judge panel refused to abolish well-established precedent known as the "baseball rule," which holds that stadium owners have a limited duty to protect spectators from balls hit into the stands by providing enough screened seats for everybody who wants to sit behind one.
Minute Maid Park has nearly 41,000 seats, of which more than 5,000 are shielded by a screen behind home plate.
The Martinezes also failed to show that the stadium owner must prove the quality of screens, and the number of screened seats, are adequate to protect fans.
"It is unnecessary for us to determine whether the Astros proved that the quality and quantity of the screened seats were adequate because, first, the quality of the existent screens was not a factor in causing Shirley Martinez's injuries and, second, the Martinezes never requested screened seating," Judge Harvey Brown wrote for the panel.
The ruling also found that the Astros did not let the usher distract Martinez from the on-field action, in breach of their duties.
"The summary-judgment evidence demonstrated that the Astros complied with its limited duty by providing adequately screened seats," he added. "The summary-judgment evidence also demonstrated that the Astros did not distract Martinez. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's order granting summary judgment."
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