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Will Lawsuits Unravel the Safety Net the 'Baseball Rule' Has Enjoyed?

18 Oct, 2017

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Legal Actions Following Injuries to Fans Place Blame Squarely on Ballparks, No Matter What Tickets Say

It didn’t take long for Major League Baseball’s netting issue to start unravelling.

After a toddler was hit in the face at a Yankees game, the questions began: was it sufficient for MLB to simply recommend expanded netting? Shouldn’t it be legally required?

MLB has long played this issue close to the chest but it appears its hand is about to be forced. A century-old piece of legalese ostensibly blocks fans from suing a ball club if they get hurt by a foul ball or a shattered bat. The reason: Fans accept the risk of injury at a ballgame because they know batters will occasionally rocket balls into the grandstands. This verbiage, in fact, appears on all MLB tickets.

But for the first time, it’s being called into question. According to an article in the National Post, a lawsuit is afoot:

The plaintiff, a lawyer for a private equity fund who was badly injured by a Yankee Stadium foul ball in 2011, says the doctrine should no longer apply because of distractions such as scoreboards showing replays and the extra risk in seats that are closer than ever to the playing field. He wants the court to scale back the rule and reinstate his negligence lawsuit.

The Yankees said last Sunday they'd "significantly expand their netting next season. Even with that, however, the lawsuit aims to undermine the Baseball Rule, a development that could cost teams money in legal costs and settlements, as well as spur teams across the country to install nets and adopt other safety measures.

"A loss would force them to put the fans' safety before their own financial interests, said Bob Gorman, a retired university librarian who has written a book on baseball-related deaths and injuries.

But this isn’t the only lawsuit being pressed currently. Athletic Business noted a second one is being pressed – against a completely different ball club.

The suit, brought by John “Jay” Loos, of Schaumburg, Illinois, comes after a facial injury that allegedly left him blind in one eye. Loos was hit by a line drive foul ball while he was seated on the first-base line at Wrigley Field with his 30-year-old son during an Aug. 29 game between the Cubs and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The wince-worthy video is found here.

The Yanks have noted they intend to increase their netting in time for next season. It’s certainly likely the Cubs will as well. But whether MLB creates a mandate for all its ballparks remains to be seen.

It’s likely that, along with the fate of the wording on the tickets, will hinge on the outcome of the lawsuit.

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