Plaintiffs Strike Out with Suit Seeking More Baseball Stadium Safety Netting

By | November 18, 2016

A U.S. judge has dismissed a lawsuit seeking to require the 30 Major League Baseball teams to extend netting at stadiums farther down the first- and third-base lines to protect fans from injuries caused by foul balls and broken bats.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled late Wednesday that two fans who brought the proposed class-action lawsuit lacked standing to sue because they could not show a sufficient likelihood they would be injured at future games.

The plaintiffs, Oakland Athletics fan Gail Payne and Los Angeles Dodgers fan Stephanie Smith, said harder-throwing pitchers, wooden bats that splinter easily, and distractions such as Wi-Fi put unprotected fans at greater risk of harm, and justified netting from “foul pole to foul pole.”

Rogers agreed that “while rare, the severity of injuries that baseball spectators sustain in the modern era as a result of foul balls is significantly more severe than in the past.”

But the Oakland-based judge cited data from Major League Baseball that the risk of injury to the plaintiffs in future games was only a small fraction of 1 percent.

Rogers found no “credible or immediate threat” that Payne would be struck by a foul ball or bat, while Smith might face less risk than a typical fan because she had been injured at a Dodgers game and thus might have greater awareness.

The judge also rejected claims that “fear of injury” made it harder to enjoy games and justified more netting, because fans could choose to sit in different seats.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

A Major League Baseball spokesman also declined to comment. The league has said courts have long held that fans assume the risk of foul balls and broken bats flying into the stands.

Last December, Commissioner Rob Manfred encouraged teams to install netting between both dugouts and within 70 feet of home plate, and advise fans buying tickets which seats are protected.

The lawsuit was filed by the law firm Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, which has also sued the National Collegiate Athletic Association and various soccer organizations over player injuries.

The case is Payne et al v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 15-03229.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Alan Crosby and David Gregorio)

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