An Illinois appellate court ruled that a Chicago Cubs lawsuit can move forward despite arbitration language on the back of the plaintiff’s ticket.
Chicago Cubs Lawsuit Prompted by Foul Ball Injury
The Chicago Cubs lawsuit stems from a foul ball injury that occurred on August 27, 2018. On that date, Laiah Zuniga was attending a Cubs game at Wrigley Field when a foul ball struck her in the face.
Ms. Zuniga filed suit against the Chicago Cubs and Major League Baseball the following year, alleging that the ball knocked her unconscious and inflicted various severe injuries, including facial fractures and extensive damage to her teeth. According to the Chicago Cubs lawsuit, Ms. Zuniga was hit because Wrigley Field had not extended netting to protect fans from foul balls all the way down the third base line, where she was seated. Prior to the 2018 season, Major League Baseball had mandated that netting should extend to the far end of each dugout.
In response to the Chicago Cubs lawsuit, the defendants brought a motion to compel arbitration, citing fine print language on the back of Ms. Zuniga’s ticket. The text included a denial of liability for foul ball injuries and a clause requiring binding arbitration of any dispute arising from attendance at the game. The arbitration clause also included a waiver of the right to trial by jury and of the right to bring a class-action lawsuit.
What Is Binding Arbitration?
This type of language on the back of tickets is very common. It has largely protected professional sports teams from lawsuits for more than a century – and it is not limited to sports. Binding arbitration is a widespread practice across many industries today, with clauses buried in the fine print of contracts for employment, cellphones, credit cards, retirement accounts, nursing homes, and other commonplace agreements.
By signing these contracts or even by buying certain products, consumers waive their right to take these companies to court, even for very serious damages. Instead, the agreements stipulate that all disputes have to be presented to and decided by arbitrators. These are private individuals, hired by the companies themselves, whose decisions are not bound by state or federal law and are usually final, without the opportunity for appeal.
Critics of binding arbitration claim that the practice unfairly disadvantages plaintiffs, who generally lack the resources of major companies to mount successful arbitration cases on their own. Arbitrators may also be more incentivized to favor the companies who hire them than judges or juries might be because they depend upon these companies for repeat business.
Motion to Compel Arbitration Denied
A trial court denied the defendants’ motion to compel arbitration in the Chicago Cubs lawsuit. In its ruling, the court found the arbitration clause to be unenforceable because it was “procedurally unconscionable,” in that it was so hard to find, read, or understand that it could not be fairly said that the plaintiff knew to what she was agreeing.
On March 16, 2021, an appellate court affirmed the lower court’s finding of procedural unconscionability. Additionally, the appellate court found that the arbitration clause was substantively unconscionable because the contract’s terms were so one-sided as to unfairly surprise or oppress an innocent party.
According to the court, the contract allows an injured person an “unreasonably short period” of only seven days to opt out of arbitration. It also requires that a ticketholder “must” include an “account number” in the request to opt out. In this case, Ms. Zuniga’s injury left her unable to read or engage in eye-straining activity for at least seven days, and she had no Chicago Cubs “account number” that could have allowed her to complete an opt-out request.
Accordingly, the appellate court ruled that the plaintiff’s Chicago Cubs lawsuit could proceed because the arbitration provision was legally unenforceable on the grounds of both procedural and substantive unconscionability. The defendants still have the opportunity to appeal the appellate court’s ruling before the Illinois Supreme Court.
Detail-Oriented Lawyers Leveling the Playing Field
When pursuing a personal injury lawsuit, details matter. The difference between success and failure can come down to a brief passage in the tiniest print imaginable, especially if you are going up against a large multi-billion-dollar organization. To help level the playing field, you should seek out knowledgeable, attentive representation, like the detail-oriented personal injury attorneys at GWC Injury Lawyers LLC.
With over $2 billion recovered in verdicts and settlements, GWC is one of the premier Personal Injury and Workers’ Compensation law firms in Illinois. No other plaintiff firm in the state is more respected – or more feared – by its opponents, both inside and outside of the courtroom. Our Chicago personal injury lawyers have the experience, the determination, the resources, and the reputation of success necessary to get wrongfully injured people the justice they deserve.
Contact GWC today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our dedicated attorneys. You may call our office at (312) 464-1234 or click here to chat with a representative at any time.