In September, Miami Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon was deeply troubled after another player on his team struck elderly woman in the head with a foul ball. She had been seated near the first row of the left field line when the ball came toward her. Thankfully, it only grazed her and her injuries were minor. Gordon went to check on her mid-inning, and presented her with an autographed baseball bat. He came back after the game and gave her his cleats, signed, as well as an autographed jersey.
Those kind gestures are no doubt appreciated by the fan, though they aren’t likely to pay for any medical bills that may result from being struck in the head with a baseball. And unfortunately, neither is Major League Baseball or the many teams that have declined to place protective netting in front of the area in the stands behind the dugout and along baselines known to pose a risk to patrons. In story after story across the country, fans are carried out of the ballpark on stretchers after being struck by fast-flying balls and bats, usually from line drives.
“I know it’s cool to catch balls,” Gordon told the Sun-Sentinel, advocating for greater netting on Marlins field. “But guys are hitting these balls hard. I do it all the time. I never put my family nowhere down there.”
And the fact is, while it’s been slow to happen, some ballparks have taken action.
For example, the Goodyear Ballpark in Arizona, which is where the Reds and the Indians train, has a wide berth of protective netting to shield spectators. Although some complain that the nets interfere with photo-taking and things like catching foul balls or getting an autograph, maybe those things need to take a back seat to safety, particularly when you consider how serious some of these personal injuries can be.
The New York Times recently tackled this issue in a piece called, “Danger at the Ballpark, and in a Baseball Ticket’s Fine Print.” Sportswriter Joe Nocera details an injury suffered by a fan at Yankee stadium in 2011, when attending a game with his 13-year-old son and the boy’s friends. The group was excited to have such good seats, in the third row, just 50 feet past third base. But it was raining heavily that day. Many patrons were holding umbrellas, which at least partially blocked the view. Some ballparks ban umbrellas for this very reason. More than just interfering with other fans’ enjoyment, it can prevent them from seeing a ball coming toward them. That’s what happened here. Ninety minutes into the game, the fan was struck by a foul ball down the first-base side. A literal second after the bat cracked, the patron was on the ground. The personal injury destroyed the bones around the fan’s eye socket. His upper jaw and sinus were fractured. The left side of his face was greatly damaged, and he had to undergo plastic surgery.
Although the team president initially agreed to cover the man’s $100,000 in medical bills, that offer was later rescinded, and he has sued.
Lawsuits against professional baseball teams along these lines haven’t historically done well because fans have an “assumed risk” when they enter the ballpark that they must be aware of risks inherent to the sport – such as a ball flying from the field into the stands. They have to be on the lookout for it and take evasive action when it happens. This assumption is further underscored by the fine print on the back of the ticket, warning patrons of the potential for this kind of injury. But this may be changing. In the case out of New York, the attorney noted the stadium should have known umbrellas would obstruct the view of the patron such that “he didn’t stand a chance” when that ball came flying toward him. There was no way he could have seen the ball coming toward him, let alone protected himself from it.
Beyond that, some injury lawyers have pointed out that stadiums are packed with screens and music and announcements and other displays that demand their attention and intend to distract them from the action on the field.
A Bloomberg analysis – confirmed by five mathematicians and statisticians – revealed 1,750 fans get hurt during baseball games each year due to being struck by debris from the field. That’s more often than the batter gets struck by a pitch, which happens about 1,535 times a year.
If you have been injured in Miami, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Danger at the Ballpark, and in a Baseball Ticket’s Fine Print, Nov. 20, 2015, By Joe Nocera The New York Times
Marlins’ Gordon reaches out to fan struck by ball, Sept. 23, 2015, By Craig Davis, Sun-Sentinel
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Shopping Cart Injuries – Especially Head Injuries – On the Rise, Study Shows, Dec. 7, 2015, Miami Personal Injury Attorney Blog