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Idaho baseball fan permitted to sue stadium over lost eye

By Laura Zuckerman

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - An Idaho man who lost an eye after being hit by a ball during a minor league baseball game can move forward with a lawsuit against stadium owners and the team, the Idaho Supreme Court said.

Bud Rountree was attending a Boise Hawks game in August 2008 when a foul ball struck him in the eye.

Rountree in 2010 sued the stadium owners and the Boise Hawks, a Chicago Cubs farm team, for negligence in state court.

Attorneys for the defendants, known collectively as Boise Baseball, asked the court to invoke the so-called baseball rule, a legal theory that limits the duty of stadium operators to fans hit by foul balls. In an opinion handed down last week, the court said that courts do have the authority to apply the rule but that it was declining to do so.

"Whether watching baseball is inherently dangerous, and the degrees of fault to be apportioned to Rountree and Boise Baseball, are questions for the jury," justices wrote in the February 22 opinion.

Boise Baseball argued that Rountree tacitly consented to expose himself to the risk of being hit by a baseball by attending a game and by possessing a ticket that said on the back: "The holder assumes all risk and dangers incidental to the game of baseball including specifically (but not exclusively) the danger of being injured by thrown or batted balls."

An Idaho judge rejected those arguments, contending it was within the purview of the state legislature - not the court - to adopt the baseball rule if it chose.

On appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court, Boise Baseball argued the court had the authority to adopt the baseball rule, as judges have done in New York and elsewhere.

Boise Baseball warned that a decision against it could open the door to lawsuits by amateur and professional athletes "voluntarily playing sports like baseball, softball, basketball . . . despite the fact that there are inherent risks to these sports" that are known and consented to by players.

California lawyer Vered Yakovee, lecturer in sports law at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, said that when it comes to rules such as the baseball rule, very few are absolute.

This case "carves out yet another exception to the Baseball Rule limiting liability," she said in an email. (Editing by Corrie MacLaggan and Lisa Shumaker)

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