Sporting events are popular attractions in Alabama, but when you purchase a ticket, you may pay a price you hadn't thought about. It's in that all important "fine print".
About 100,000 race fans will pack the Talladega Superspeedway this weekend, while thousands more head to baseball parks like Turner Field in Atlanta and Riverwalk Stadium in Montgomery. But when they buy their tickets, many fans fail to notice the legal language that's printed on the back.
One of the reasons we attend sporting events is to escape, at least temporarily, from the problems of everyday life. Sometimes, however, those troubles follow us.
The Talladega Superspeedway, 2009, seven fans hurt. Daytona, February 2013, - 28 spectators injured.
Anywhere objects are moving fast, and fans are close to the action, there's potential for trouble.
It's the last thing Talladega Superspeedway chairman Grant Lynch wants to see this weekend.
"Having been in motorsports coming up on 30 years, you're going to have accidents," he explains. "There's a motor involved, people are going fast. You're going to have issues with that," he added. "You're never going to be totally 100 percent confident that you can take care of everything, but you do the best you can. You get knowledgeable people to support the decisions you make when you make changes, and then you press on."
One of those changes was reinforcing of the crossover gates with extra cables after a recommendation by an engineering firm after the Daytona crash.
"Well, obviously, safety of the fans and how we take care of them while they're at our facility is one of our number one goals," Lynch says.
On the back of the Talladega tickets, there's a "disclaimer" which reads in part: "The holder of this ticket expressly assumes all risk and agrees that Talladega Superspeedway is released from all claims..."
"It explains that motorsports is a dangerous business, and there is an element of risk," Lynch says. You'll find similar language on the back of baseball tickets where every foul ball has the potential to cause injury.
"It's pretty standard in the baseball industry, and the ticketing industry of this sporting venue and this sporting event," explainsBiscuits President Greg Rauch.
"These terms that we're seeing on the back of tickets evolved from contract law, and it's still evolving today," says attorney Alan Hargrove of law firm Rushton Stakley.
"I actually read it before," admits Biscuits baseball fan Heath Corwin, but most fans go through the gates without a second glance. "I guess it (the waiver) is just something they have to do," Corwin adds, "but is it going to happen to you? You don't ever think it's going to happen to you, so you really don't give it any thought."
Hargrove says what you may not know is - despite that "fine print" on the back of sports tickets - cases still end up in court. "There's still lawyers involved. There's still discussions going on, and there's still lawsuits that are filed after these events occur. Each event is looked at on a case-by-case basis."
Hargrove says, "The court's going to look at the total picture of the circumstances involved. Was safety applied? Was this an event that would be expected normally at this type of sporting event, and if so, the court will apply one standard. If something is out of the ordinary, if safety wasn't used, the court may apply a different standard. Just because this information is on the back of the ticket doesn't mean that all rights are revoked and the owner has a complete blanket from liability."
Rauch has been with the Biscuits since the beginning. Now In their 10th season, the Biscuits and the city of Montgomery installed a new net behind home plate to protect fans from foul balls and broken bats. Signs, public address announcements and messages on the video board warn fans of flying objects. Still, " Inevitably, someone will get hit through the course of the season with a foul ball, it's part of what the game of baseball brings to the table, unfortunately."
"We have not had any serious injuries over the past nine years, thankfully, and we hope to continue that streak," Rauch says.
The most likely outcome from accidents like the one at Daytona in February is a confidential settlement. The spectators get compensated, the track avoids more negative publicity and the uncertainty of a lawsuit.
One tip from a lifelong baseball fan, if possible, try to sit behind the net, especially if you have small children. If you are in those great seats behind the dugouts so close to the action, pay extra attention if you're on the 3rd-base side and the batter is left-handed and the first-base side when the batter is right-handed.
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