New Mexico premises liability, or New Mexico slip and fall cases, whatever name they go by, they generally involve injury of a customer or guest that the property owner is responsible for. Most often these cases involve dangerous conditions or hazardous obstacles that cause injury. Generally, in these cases, it is necessary for the plaintiff to prove that the owner failed to keep the property reasonably safe for use by the visitor.
The New Mexico Supreme Court recently applied premises liability law to America’s pastime, a trip to the ballpark. The case arose when a young child was seated in a picnic area and was struck by a ball during batting practice. Although errant foul balls are commonplace in American ballparks, the plaintiff argued that the stadium should be held responsible for constructing an unprotected picnic area where people sit facing away from the field.
Initially, the District Court judge stated that what is affectionately known as the “baseball rule” applies requiring in limited duty of only screening out the areas immediately behind home plate. Accordingly, the case was dismissed.
On appeal, the New Mexico Supreme Court held that a baseball stadium is not allowed to simply protect the fans behind home plate to satisfy its legal obligation to spectators. At the same time, the Supreme Court did not say that the conduct by the baseball stadium was in fact negligence. Rather the court said that New Mexico’s typical approach to premises liability cases should apply to injuries at the ballpark. This means that the duty owed by this stadium is that of ordinary care to keep the premises reasonably safe for the visitor regardless of whether or not a dangerous condition his obvious. More importantly, the Supreme Court opinion means that this is an issue worthy of discussion before a jury.
As a baseball fan, I’m admittedly mixed. Alarmists will suggest that now all stadiums will be enclosed in glass, and that it is another example of plaintiff’s avoiding personal responsibility. By the same token, it seems reasonable to allow a jury to decide if it is negligent to hold parties where backs are turned to batting practice bombs flying over walls.
Wither way, the Supreme Court decision places additional value on premises liability analysis and law, and if anything limits property owners’ ability to avoid taking resonable action to protect visitors.