Miniscule Language on Back of Ticket Sends Foul Ball Injury Case to Arbitration

Miniscule Language on Back of Ticket Sends Foul Ball Injury Case to Arbitration

(Editor’s Note: What follows is an excerpt from the lead case summary in the latest Sports Litigation Alert. The article is written by one of our senior writers at Hackney Publications, Jeff Birren.)

By Jeff Birren, Senior Writer

A couple from Ohio attended a minor league baseball game. One was seriously injured. They sued the owner of the team, but due to the tiny print on the back of the ticket, coupled with over eight pages of legalese on the team’s website, the U.S. District Court sent their case to arbitration (Deborah Kay Roberts and Lowell Wayne Roberts v. Boyd Sports, LLC, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11805, 2024 WL 25193 (2024)).

Carry Me Out of the Ball Game

Deborah and Wayne Roberts live in Ohio. They decided to attend a Tennessee Smokies game on April 20, 2022. The team is a Double A affiliate of the Cubs. Smokies Stadium is in Kodak, a suburb of Nashville. It opened in 2000 and is owed by the County of Sevierville and the City of Sevierville. In 2022, the Smokies were playing one last season there. The lease is set to expire on March 15, 2025, and a new stadium is currently under construction in Knoxville. Even if the more expensive digs are not ready for the 2025 opener, there will be no return to Kodak.

Deborah Roberts ordered tickets by telephone and received the tickets at “Will Call” on game night. They sat in the front row near the third base dugout. “During the game Ms. Roberts was struck on the head by a foul ball, resulting in several facial injuries that required a three-day hospital stay before returning to Ohio for further treatment.” She has paid more than $100,000 in medical expenses. The day after the injury, Mr. Roberts met with team representatives to discuss the injury. They kept one game ticket stub.


On April 23, 2023, the Roberts sued the Smokies’ owner, Boyd Sports, LLC. They filed an Amended Complaint in May that attached both the stadium use agreement and the stadium management agreement. The next short phase of the litigation involved getting the proper certificate of citizenship filed as the case was in Tennessee federal court based on diversity jurisdiction. Once that was done, Boyd Sports filed a motion to dismiss for “failure to state a claim” due to the asserted arbitration agreement.

The front of the ticket has details about the game, and the seat numbers. The “arbitration agreement” is located on the back of the ticket in “size 4 font.” The following is the Court’s description: “THIS TICKET IS A REVOCABLE LICENSE…. Just below that read: ‘By using this ticket holder … agrees to the terms and conditions, including anAGREEMENT TO ARBITATION/CLASS ACTION WAIVER, at https://www/… and the Agreement summary state below…’ Starting at five lines from the bottom of the ticket is the following capitalized passage: ‘ANY CLAIM RELATED TO THIS TICKET SHALLE BE SETTLED BY MANDATORY, CONFIDENTIAL, FINAL, BINDING ARBITRATION.’ The full terms and conditions available at the website provided on the back of the ticket contain the following opt-out provision: ‘YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REJECT THIS ARBITRATION AGREEMENT, BUT YOU MUST EXERCISE THIS RIGHT PROMPTLY … within seven (7) days after the date of the Event.’”


The Federal Arbitration Act allows contracting parties to resolve disputes via arbitration, 9 U.S.C. § 2. The Court noted the “Supreme Court recently emphasized” the goal “is to ensure that private arbitration agreements are enforced according to their terms, just as with any other contract” (Morgan v. Sundance, 596 U. S. 411 (2022)). “The Court ‘views all facts and inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable’ to the party opposing arbitration.” If the alleged contract does not delegate the scope of enforceability to the arbitrator, the Court does so. It analyzes four factors. First, is there is an agreement to arbitrate? If so, it determines “the scope of the arbitration agreement. If federal claims are asserted, did Congress intend “those claims to be nonarbitrable”? Finally, if some, but not all of the claims are subject to arbitration, should the Court “dismiss or stay the remaining proceedings”?


In this case, no federal claims were asserted. Furthermore, Plaintiffs agreed that if the arbitration agreement was valid, it “covers any related claim.” Finally, there were no claims outside of the purported arbitration agreement, so there was nothing to dismiss or stay if claims were sent to arbitration. It came down to “whether the parties agreed to arbitrate.” That answer depended on how this Court interpreted Tennessee law.

Agreement To Arbitrate

An arbitration agreement is a contract. In Tennessee a contract requires “a meeting of the minds in mutual assent to the terms”; “must be based upon a sufficient consideration”; “free from fraud or undue influence”; “not against public policy”; and “sufficiently definite to be enforced.” The party opposing arbitration “bears the burden of showing a genuine issue of material fact as to the validity” of the arbitration agreement. Plaintiffs thus had to …

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