Facility Risk Management

By USA Baseball Medical/Safety Advisory Committee

Many baseball leagues do not own their own ballpark. Many ballpark or stadium managers do not conduct their own baseball league. They obviously need each other for their respective reasons for being. Usually the lessor (ballpark owner) and lessee (baseball program) relationship is a friendly understanding. Field access is reserved. The check is in the mail. Everyone, fan and player, goes home at the end of the game the way they came, and between lessor and lessee, there was no loser.

Typically, this friendly relationship is more formalized via some signed and filed standard legal document that may be as “Greek” to the stadium manager as it is to the league president who signs it. Still, as long as everyone goes home the way they came, everyone stays a winner, and the document stays in the file. But what if a player’s parent slips and falls in the restroom and breaks a hip? What if the emotions of the competition continue into the parking lot and an umpire is jumped by somebody? What if a player steps into a divot in the field or crashes into a teammate chasing a hit ball…and doesn’t get up? What if the bleachers collapse during the game? Who pays? …. Why?

Hopefully, the answers to these last two questions would be the same whether asked of the lessor or the lessee, a result of documented mutual understanding of reciprocity to the effect: “I’ll take care of my responsibilities if you’ll take care of yours.” This requires, though, a special form of transferring risk to where it belongs. A “good” contract or lease, with certificates of insurance to back up a mutual hold harmless and indemnification agreement, will do just that. A “good” contract or lease begins with a clear statement of respective responsibilities, especially concerning those gray areas that are significant to the program and can differ from league to league and ballpark to ballpark (e.g., responsibility for concessions, emergency medical care, parking lot, security, field maintenance).

After which, particular phrasings should be used that enable both lessor and lessee to accept only those problems arising from their responsibilities and to hold harmless and indemnify the other party for anything else. The combination produces the desired reciprocity. However, in the ballpark/stadium business, due in part to prior difficulties with some lessees with risk management problems and inadequate insurance, the lease agreement offered to the league may be protecting the lessor in all respects…especially if the supply/demand equation favors the supplier. For example, without reciprocity within the lease, the league may find itself “responsible” for a bleacher collapse that obviously resulted from poor construction or maintenance for which the lessor has the obvious responsibility.

In such instances, the league should attempt to clarify and amend what would be fairer in reciprocity, e.g., to modify by written statement the one-way indemnification to that of mutual intent while still agreeing to be responsible for that which they are responsible. The USA Baseball office may be of help in this respect if given enough time for review and comment.