Even though fans are given ample warning about the dangers of baseballs, bats, and other equipment/materials flying into the stands to cause injury, as well as laws being in place to absolve stadium owners and operators from these types of fan injuries, Major League Baseball (MLB) and its teams are still at risk litigiously.
In late August, a fan named John Loos was hit by a foul baseball at a Chicago Cubs game and lost sight in his left eye. Following this incident, Loos filed a lawsuit against the Cubs and the MLB. Against the Cubs, Loos is filing willful and wanton conduct (aggravated negligence) while filing negligence against the MLB. He said that the Cubs and the MLB did not install or require a netting in an area that would have prevented him from being injured, they did not assess or re-assess netting coverage after recent injuries to fans, they not did properly warn him and others of the risks associated with baseballs being hit into the stands, and they did not ensure proper safety to him and other fans.
Unfortunately for Loos, there has been lawsuits similar to this in the past that did not gather much steam. A good amount of these fan injury cases in baseball have been thrown out due to "The Baseball Rule." In simple terms, this means that stadium owners are released from liability when it comes to fans being protected from foul balls and bats as long as they have enough protective netting around the most dangerous areas (ex. behind home plate).
In terms of Illinois law itself, the owner of a stadium is not liable for injury from a baseball or bat unless the protective netting was defective or the injury was caused by willful and wanton conduct. Loos is hoping to succeed with the willful and wanton conduct charge by claiming that the Cubs recklessly did not provide enough protection for him and other fans seated in his area. However, the Cubs abided by the MLB's recommendation to expand protective netting in their ballpark. Thus, it would be difficult to prove that the Cubs are at fault for willful and wanton conduct in this case.
Overall, I believe that the Cubs and the MLB will agree to settle with Loos to avoid negative PR with fans. It is not a good look for a league or team to railroad an injured fan who was just trying to enjoy a baseball game with his son. However, I do believe this will also cause the MLB to adopt more policies to avoid this type of occurrence in the future. For instance, instead of simply recommending changes to teams, they may be better off mandating more rules to expand protective netting coverage.
Written by Kyle Burgoyne