A class-action law suit was filed against MLB today seeking the installation of more protective netting

109 Comments

Two consumer rights law firms filed a putative class-action lawsuit today against Major League Baseball and Commissioner Rob Manfred for their alleged failure to act to protect ballpark spectators against foul balls and bat injuries. The suit seeks no monetary relief – only to force Major League Baseball to install safety netting from foul pole to foul pole at all major and minor league parks by the beginning of the 2016-2017 MLB season.

The complaint, which can be read here and which is embedded below, alleges that despite Manfred and MLB’s statements about caring about fan safety above all else, “Manfred and the Office of the Commissioner have failed to act.” It claims that Manfred and MLB “have failed to follow the path of other professional sports in the United States and in other countries that have taken readily-available and relatively inexpensive steps to protect its spectators.” The suit goes on to cite players’ concerns about fan safety, saying “tellingly, those who know the game and its dangers best – the players – have demanded since at least 2007 that protective measures be put in place – something Manfred and the Office of the Commissioner have never disclosed to the public.” This is something we at HBT have noted recently.

The suit alleges that every year “fans of all ages, but often children, suffer horrific and preventable injuries, such as blindness, skull fractures, severe concussions and brain hemorrhages, when they are struck by a fast-moving ball or flying shrapnel from a shattered bat,” and that Manfred has “continued to make statements that promote Major League ballparks as safe and family-friendly and has sought to increase attendance of young fans – a demographic that is highly at risk for foul ball and bat injuries.”

The suit, filed on behalf of season ticket holders, with an Oakland A’s fan named Gail Payne as the lead plaintiff, was filed in federal court in the Northern District of California. The plaintiffs’ law firms are from Seattle and Corpus Christi, Texas. The 48 page complaint recounts the evolution of spectator protection, the risks posed by foul balls and shattered bats, injury rates among fans — under the colorful heading “The Modern Day Slaughter Pen.” Interestingly, Payne, the lead plaintiff has not suffered any injuries from foul balls or broken bats. Rather, she alleges the following:

Gail Payne, is an individual residing in Alameda County, in Oakland, California. She has been a devout fan of Major League Baseball’s Oakland A’s for nearly 50 years, since her aunt took her to her first A’s game in 1968. She loves attending games, has attended many, and this year purchased tickets for the first time. She bought tickets in section 211, which she believes is less expensive than the sections covered by protective netting. At her seats, which are in an exposed section along the first base line, she fears for her and her husband’s safety and particularly for her daughter. Due to the fact that at Oakland Coliseum, the protective netting behind the backstop is minimal, and does not extend to her seat, foul balls have shot into the stands around her more times than she can count. Gail estimates that at every game, at least three or four balls enter her section alone, and she is constantly ducking and weaving to avoid getting hit by foul balls or shattered bats. On one occasion Gail ducked to avoid a foul ball flying her way, but as alleged herein there is no guarantee she can duck the next time. In addition, due to the fact that at Oakland Coliseum, there are many, many distractions, such as a giant screen across from her section, and fan-participation contests that involve texting or using applications on mobile devices, she believes she and other fans are at increase risk of injury.

The theory is that Payne and everyone else who might join this suit are all in a “Zone of Danger,” and thus have standing to assert the claims.

While the claims here and the copious data cited by the plaintiffs regarding the risk of injury to fans is compelling on a certain level, it’s another thing altogether to say that this suit has any kind of chance to force action by Major League Baseball, legally speaking. For one thing, the manner in which the case has been brought — by people who could be injured, but have not yet been — could sink this thing before it every got going. And, at the very least, could take years to be put through its procedural paces.

More fundamentally, it runs smack up against the so-called “Baseball Rule.” What is “the Baseball Rule?” Glad you asked!

In most walks of life, whether someone is liable to you for injuries caused by alleged negligence is determined by a judgment call: was the harm foreseeable and did they act reasonably to prevent the harm from occurring? That’s a matter for a jury to decide, and the jury can take all of the specific facts of the case into account in making that determination.

Ballpark operators, however, have typically had a safe harbor that shields them from having a jury decide whether they acted prudently. It’s called “The Baseball Rule,” and it’s a legal doctrine which underpins those little “we’re not liable for you getting injured by flying balls and bats” disclaimers on the back of your ticket.

The way it’s usually formulated by the courts is that stadium owners and operators must provide “screened seats for as many spectators as may be reasonably expected to call for them on any ordinary occasion,” and that if they do that, they’re legally absolved of liability. Typically, providing screens behind home plate and around to each side to some degree puts owners in the safe harbor. In that case, it’s a matter of law, not fact, and the judge will usually dismiss the case before it ever gets to a jury.

That rule has been challenged more and more in recent years but it still, generally speaking has legal currency. You’re more or less assuming the risk of injury at the ballpark.

As I wrote last year, the ballpark experience has changed a lot. Seats are closer than they used to be. Balls are hit harder and bats shatter more easily. There are more distractions in the form of entertainment on the big screen, music and the like. The price of seats behind the screen can be prohibitive in many parks, putting a lot of fans in a situation to where they have to choose between spending a ton of money or sitting in unprotected seats. It’s possible, in the right case, that a plaintiff could successfully challenge the Baseball Rule on grounds that what was once considered reasonable protection — say, netting from dugout to dugout — is no longer reasonable, and more netting is required. This lawsuit seems to be aiming at that specifically, seeking a declaration that, as of now, the netting is insufficient and that more must be put up.

But given that the suit is casting so wide a, um, net, in terms of plaintiffs I have a hard time seeing them getting what they want out of this. Which, of course, it’s possible the plaintiffs’ lawyers know quite well and are using this as a means of highlighting the dangers of foul balls and broken bats so that, when someone is seriously injured, it will be much harder for Major League Baseball to claim that the risk was unforeseeable or adequately protected against.

Either way: worth watching.

07-13-2015_Complaint_Payne_v__MLB_No__15-cv-3229 by craigcalcaterra

Yankees star Judge hits 61st home run, ties Maris’ AL record

aaron judge
Cole Burston/Getty Images
2 Comments

TORONTO — Aaron Judge tied Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run drive for the New York Yankees in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old slugger drove a 94.5 mph belt-high sinker with a full-count from left-hander Tim Mayza over the left-field fence at Rogers Centre. The 117.4 mph drive took just 3.8 seconds to land 394 feet from the plate, and it put the Yankees ahead 5-3.

Judge watched the ball clank off the front of the stands, just below two fans who reached over a railing and tried for a catch. He pumped an arm just before reaching first and exchanged a slap with coach Travis Chapman.

The ball dropped into Toronto’s bullpen and was picked up by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, who turned it over to the Yankees.

Judge’s mother and Roger Maris Jr. rose and hugged from front-row seats. He appeared to point toward them after rounding second base, then was congratulated by the entire Yankees team, who gave him hugs after he crossed the plate.

Judge moved past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league mark until Maris broke it in 1961. All three stars reached those huge numbers playing for the Yankees.

Barry Bonds holds the big league record of 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001.

Judge had gone seven games without a home run – his longest drought this season was nine in mid-August. This was the Yankees’ 155th game of the season, leaving them seven more in the regular season.

The home run came in the fourth plate appearance of the night for Judge, ending a streak of 34 plate appearances without a home run.

Judge is hitting .313 with 130 RBIs, also the top totals in the AL. He has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Maris hit No. 61 for the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1961, against Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard.

Maris’ mark has been exceeded six times, but all have been tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year, and Bonds topped him. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 during a four-season span starting in 1998.

McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans – perhaps many – until now have considered Maris the holder of the “clean” record.

Among the tallest batters in major league history, the 6-foot-7 Judge burst on the scene on Aug. 13, 2016, homering off the railing above Yankee Stadium’s center-field sports bar and into the netting above Monument Park. He followed Tyler Austin to the plate and they become the first teammates to homer in their first major league at-bats in the same game.

Judge hit 52 homers with 114 RBIs the following year and was a unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Injuries limited him during the following three seasons, and he rebounded to hit 39 homers with 98 RBIs in 2021.

As he approached his last season before free agent eligibility, Judge on opening day turned down the Yankees’ offer of an eight-year contract worth from $230.5 million to $234.5 million. The proposal included an average of $30.5 million annually from 2023-29, with his salary this year to be either the $17 million offered by the team in arbitration or the $21 million requested by the player.

An agreement was reached in June on a $19 million, one-year deal, and Judge heads into this offseason likely to get a contract from the Yankees or another team for $300 million or more, perhaps topping $400 million.

Judge hit six homers in April, 12 in May and 11 in June. He earned his fourth All-Star selection and entered the break with 33 homers. He had 13 homers in July and dropped to nine in August, when injuries left him less protected in the batting order and pitchers walked him 25 times.

He became just the fifth player to hold a share of the AL season record. Nap Lajoie hit 14 in the AL’s first season as a major league in 1901, and Philadelphia Athletics teammate Socks Seabold had 16 the next year, a mark that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919. Ruth set the record four times in all, with 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 and 60 in 1927, a mark that stood until Maris’ 61 in 1961.

Maris was at 35 in July 1961 during the first season each team’s schedule increased from 154 games to 162, and baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled if anyone topped Ruth in more than 154 games “there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.”

That “distinctive mark” became known as an “asterisk” and it remained until Sept. 4, 1991, when a committee on statistical accuracy chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record holder.