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Two Foul Calls, It Looks To Me
The "Ethicist" in The New York Times got this question:

At my son’s Little League game, a foul ball sailed over the fence and shattered the window of a parked car. Signs at the ball field specify that the league is not responsible. One parent argued that the hitters family should replace the window. Our family thinks the player and his parents have no such obligation: foul balls are part of the game. Who is right? — Steve Fram, Palo Alto, Calif.

The "Ethicist" (and I put it that way because I sometimes find his answers to be lacking in not only actual humor, but ethics) answers the question like so:

The league that runs the game (or the municipality that operates the ballpark) should pay for the window. It determines the conditions under which the game is played. The young players have little say in such things (along with notoriously shallow pockets). The league should also provide, or require each team to provide, insurance against such mishaps. Posting a sign doesn’t shield you. If it did, I'd post one waiving my responsibility for, well, nearly everything.

Foul balls are indeed a part of the game, and I’d exempt the league here if that car had been parked between the third-base line and the dugout. That is: Foul balls are a risk accepted by those inside the ballpark, not those on the street nearby. Your offer of absolution is curiously open-ended. May a hard-hitting player shatter a window with impunity on a car parked a block away? Ten blocks away? In France?

(Incidentally, baseball would be a lot more entertaining if cars did routinely drive onto the field, adding a note of danger and unpredictability to our tedious national pastime.)

Fortunately, there is a real-world solution or at least a California-world solution. Vanessa Wells, safety officer for the Palo Alto Little League, explains that “California insurance law generally treats auto damage involving a falling object as a no-fault claim on the car owner’s insurer. A baseball is regarded as such a falling object.” Like plummeting aircraft parts. Briefly lofted into the stratosphere by a muscular Barry Bonds.

Heh heh heh heh...whatever.

Yes, he does say the league should pay for the window -- but then seems to suggest, no biggie!, that the car owner should or could pick up the tab. Ironically, he refers to this as "real world advice." Well, I guess it's real enough for somebody who takes cabs, buses, or the subway wherever they need to go. But, here in California, there's such a thing as a deductible on one's car insurance, which the car owner pays.

And besides, while I'm not an insurance expert either, merely a person with insurance, even if you don't get points, I don't think it exactly serves you to file claims on your insurance (in terms of keeping your premium down and/or hanging onto your insurance)...whether or not that's supposed to be the case.

On an ABC/ news site, I found this:

When the glass company told her she could file a no-fault insurance claim without any points on her record, she did.

Chris Owens, car owner: "The deductible was $100 versus the $400 I was going to be paying out of pocket, so I'll go ahead and take her advice and open up claims for the windshields."

No, Mr. "Ethicist," it seems no-fault doesn't mean "no-pay." And frankly, the person whose window was hit will be paying big in hassle and lost hours of their life to get that window replaced. Something nobody seems to consider, not only when writing ethics advice columns -- but when they crash into somebody else's car while, say, texting on their cellphone, which is sure to be the next big cause of car crashes.

Posted by aalkon at August 21, 2007 10:15 AM


"(Incidentally, baseball would be a lot more entertaining if cars did routinely drive onto the field, adding a note of danger and unpredictability to our tedious national pastime.)"
Let me guess, he likes soccer better.

Posted by: martin at August 21, 2007 7:03 AM

It is difficult to tell from the original letter, but here is my take. If the parked car was right next to the field (in a parking space or the like), the owner should just take their lumps (not only because they were forewarned with signs, but also because such is basic common sense). However, if the ball sailed way out onto the street, than I would say the owner of the car was less complicit. All depends upon they layout of the fields and streets.

Thinking of some of the parents in my son's little league, I can honestly state that I would not be surprised if the owner of the car WAS a baseball parent and thus should have known better...

Posted by: André-Tascha at August 21, 2007 8:06 AM

It was an accident. The kid wasn't deliberately trying to hit the car, was he? No. You parked where you parked, there were signs, right? Here again is another example of people not wanting to accept personal responsibility. Suck it up and get your window fixed. On your dime. I agree with A-T, not that the parent should have known better, but that you take your chances when you park your car near a Little League field. Or any baseball field. What if it happened at a Dodgers' game? You think the Dodgers are gonna pay for it? Guess again.

Posted by: Flynne at August 21, 2007 8:27 AM

According to my Business Law Professor, those types of disclaimers are meaningless. The car owner has every right to expect the ball club or team to replace his windshield. He should take them to court to be reimbursed for his deductible and lost wages.

It has nothing to do with taking responsibility. His car was parked legally and damaged through no fault of his own. Why should he shoulder the cost?

Posted by: JoJo at August 21, 2007 9:02 AM

I agree with JoJo.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 21, 2007 9:33 AM

It has nothing to do with taking responsibility. His car was parked legally and damaged through no fault of his own. Why should he shoulder the cost?

I wasn't disputing that his car was parked legally. However, he took the risk of parking there. It was an accident. Why should the batter's family have to shoulder the cost? What if he was parked on the street and a piano fell on top of his car? It was an accident. That's why people have insurance.

Posted by: Flynne at August 21, 2007 9:41 AM

Going with Flynne here. It's not that a child's falling baseball isn't an act of God... But this is a planet where shitty things happen to us all the time, and we should try to steer people in the direction of being tough and sucking it up the pain, especially if they're going to enjoy the privilege of (in this case) putting their car so close to the park.

Paglia used to talk about date rape like this. If you leave your expensive camera sitting on the fender of your car in New York City and twenty minutes later you come back and it's gone, the cop will agree with you that a crime has been committed. But he'll ask "What the fuck were you thinking?" Similarly for a woman who has a bunch of drinks with a frat boy at a mixer and goes back to his room with him. What did you expect?

This is a perfect example to explain to the kids on the field that Shit Happens, which is most of what they're there to learn anyway.

Posted by: Crid at August 21, 2007 11:33 AM

The law can be on your side and you still have to have the stones to walk onto a little league field and demand that someone write you a check. Now if it was an adult league the picture might be different but little Timmy (and his parents) get a pass. For a more extreme example, if someone committed suicide by jumping off a building and landed on your car you wouldn't show up at the funeral with repair bill even though you probably could. As with most finer points of law, if you don't mind looking like a money-grubbing shitweasel, you'll get your check.

Posted by: martin at August 21, 2007 12:03 PM

I've made money on the side by umpiring Little League and Bambino league games for the last 8 years of my life and have visited numerous ball parks. Here's the thing; I have never been to a field that was built without at least 50 feet between it and a road. I can't account for every ball park in the whole of the united states, but I can say that leagues have built there parks with this issue in mind. and yet, people always find the most idiotic and retarded ways to find issue when their car does get hit.

At one park, the league placed the parking lot for the field 100 feet behind the backstop. They did this because it made it physically impossible for a car to be damaged by anyone, 12 year old or otherwise. Then, of course, parents complained about walking 100 feet, and then parked along the grassy area just beyond the rightfield porch. When a big 5'8" 12 year old got up their and smacked their windshield, they complained, and everybody told them next time not to park there.

Looking at that letter alone, I feel like I don't know enough. Is there "victim" in question another baseball parent? where is the car parked in relation to the field? If they decided that it was perfectly okay to be within 20 feet of the playing field, go pay fo ryou own window, because twenty feet outside of the playing field is considered part of the park. If the field is built two feet from the road, and you were just putting your car there, it's the fault of whoever decided to put a ball field that close, (and thus the league's problem).

What people don't seem to get is that the fence designate's boundaries for fair play. But it is perfectly accetable for the ball to go outside that boundary. If you put 50 feet between you and any part of a baseball field, I have serious doubts that your car will be hit. I don't even know why I have to say it. It's common sense.

Posted by: Scott at August 21, 2007 12:40 PM

I work in insurance. This is true, windshield replacements are a no fault coverage not resulting in a premium or rate incrase and they do carry smaller deductibles . Also, many policies will provide coverage to fix little cracks for free as part of your coverage (so they don't get bigger and resulting in a more expensive claim to replace the whole thing).

As far as this guys ethics. One must question, just because you CAN do something does not mean you SHOULD do it. In a perfect world, the parents would politely offer to pay for the damage and the YAHOO who parked in foul territory (my fiance plays softball and quite frankly, only the stupid people park where the foul balls go - if you play softball, you know where these spots are) would say " " hey, Its my fault for parking there - i'll take care of it".

But of course, this would only be in a perfect world.

Posted by: Erika at August 21, 2007 2:22 PM

I never, ever, in a million years thought that it would be possible to disagree with the brilliant and insightful Ms. Alkon, but alas... it seems that there's a first time for everything. Dear Amy (if I may be so bold as to address you by your given name) you have this one wrong. Flynne has taken the words right out of my mouth, and Scott has sharpened it to a very fine point. Accidents are a way of life with cars. A piece of debris is thrown up from the road and breaks your $800 HID headlight -- what are you to do? Track down the previous owner of the debris? Follow the car whose driver was unlucky enough to have run over it? Of course not. It's one of the little annoyances of operating a car. So it is with parking in a spot where any reasonable person should know that hard objects will occasionally fall from the sky. The fault of the batter? Ridiculous. The pitcher perhaps. Hahaha. (Should he have put it fast down the middle to avoid serving up a potential foul ball, perhaps?) No. Wait. It's the league's fault for not having parking lot monitors to chase errant parkers away. (Sigh) Folks, this is just a perpetratorless accident. The owner of the car should simply suck it up, pay the deductible, choose parking spots more judiciously, and, for the love of God, WRITE FEWER LETTERS TO THE RAVING ETHICIST.

Posted by: Steve at August 21, 2007 5:10 PM

"It has nothing to do with taking responsibility. His car was parked legally and damaged through no fault of his own. Why should he shoulder the cost?"

It was through TOTAL fault of his own. A lack of common sense doesn't protect consumers in almost all cases (caveat emptor: still holds water. I can whip out my West's Business Law if you'd like).

Parking near a kids' baseball game holds an inherent risk risk. By voluntarily parking one's car in a STUPID place (there is a sign posted - maybe not a legal disclaimer but, like, duhh, idiot) damage is not a shocking or unforeseen consequence.

Legality of the parking space is not the issue. If you visit a construction site (*that is up to the standardized safety regs*) and you get injured you probably won't recover b/c you willingly assumed risk - walking around the site is inherently dangerous. Walking around the site is "legal" but that doesn't negate the use of common sense nor does the fact it's legal mean you are extricated from having assumed the risk.

Volenti non fit injuria..."to a willing person, no harm is done." I left a message for my boyfriend to let me know if that defense would hold up (I hope so, I have no patience for stupidity. Next time, park in the back...just because there is a spot there doesn't mean a ball "can't" reach.).

Posted by: Gretchen at August 21, 2007 5:27 PM

I'm surprised nobody has called for banning baseball because of this. Gee, somebody on the field has to - gasp! - lose! The savagery!

Posted by: Radwaste at August 21, 2007 6:19 PM

Nice post. While I agree with Amy and JoJo in principle, I'd probably just lump it if it were my car.

I could see going the other way with a slight change, too. If the car were parked inside of a public park where baseball is played or perhaps in a small town where everyone knows when baseball will be played and there is ample free parking elsewhere, I would lean toward making the car owner responsible for avoiding damage.

This one is interesting to me because it exposes how much of our thinking is based on what we have unconsciously absorbed from our surroundings and how little is based on well thought out principles. An example that gets on my nerves is listening to Americans in Europe whine about paying to use public toilets. It's a much better system, but they can't get past the idea that they have the right (entitlement) to shit on someone else's property for free.

Posted by: Shawn at August 21, 2007 10:14 PM

"If your car is parked here, it might be damaged during baseball games. If you do not wish to assume this risk, park somewhere else."

This should be obvious. The sign isn't a disclaimer, it is a warning: if you value your windshield, get the hell out!

There's a factory near me with spikes across its parking lot and a sign reading "severe tire damage". It seems to me, by Amy's logic, that I could drive to this company every day and sue them for tire repairs. Maybe the factory should be even more culpable, since they put the spikes there to intentionally damage my vehicle...

Posted by: lurker1 at August 22, 2007 10:15 AM

Lurker, if you don't understand the difference, well, frankly, it's too tiresome to explain to you.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at August 22, 2007 10:52 AM

A pun?! An honest to goodness pun?
Okay, I am calling the paper today. No, I'm going down there. Tell your agent to expect a call from flyover country.

Posted by: martin at August 23, 2007 6:31 AM

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