A Schaumburg man recently filed suit against the Chicago Cubs and Major League Baseball following a foul ball injury at Wrigley Field that left him partially blind.
“I Never Really Saw It”
On August 29, 2017, 60-year-old John “Jay” Loos and his son Adam attended a Chicago Cubs home game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Mr. Loos was seated in Section 135, Row 11, Seat 107 of Wrigley Field, which overlooked a stretch of the first base line extending into the outfield. During the game, Chad Kuhl, a pitcher for the Pirates, batted a line-drive foul ball into the stands that struck Mr. Loos in the face.
“I never really saw it,” Mr. Loos said during a press conference on October 9.
Mr. Loos, who was bleeding from the left eye as a result of the foul ball injury, was then taken by ambulance to an area hospital for treatment. The impact of the foul ball reportedly broke five facial bones and tore a hole in his sinus.
Mr. Loos subsequently underwent three surgeries, with two more likely forthcoming. Nevertheless, Mr. Loos remained blind in his left eye as of the time of the press conference. Moreover, he claimed that his doctors have informed him that they may still have to remove his eye and replace it with a prosthetic.
Foul Ball Injury Lawsuit
On October 6, Mr. Loos and his attorney filed a personal injury lawsuit against the Chicago Cubs and Major League Baseball in Cook County Circuit Court, seeking “at least $50,000.00” in financial damages to compensate Mr. Loos for his foul ball injury. The lawsuit alleges that the Cubs organization was negligent because Wrigley Field does not provide sufficient spectator netting to protect attendees sitting in the stands. The attorney for Mr. Loos contends that expanded spectator netting could have prevented his foul ball injury, adding that such netting is standard in Japan.
History of Similar Incidents
What happened to Mr. Loos is far from the first such foul ball injury to have been occurred in Major League Baseball. According to a 2014 report from Bloomberg Businessweek, an estimated 1,750 spectators are injured each year by baseballs flying into the stands. In fact, an incident very similar to what happened to Mr. Loos followed soon after. On September 20, a two-year-old girl was struck in the face at New York’s Yankee Stadium by a line-drive foul ball with an estimated speed of 105 miles per hour. The child reportedly suffered a broken nose and other facial fractures.
Given the risk and frequency of such foul ball injuries, many have called for expanding protective spectator netting in baseball stadiums. In 2015, following a federal class-action lawsuit filed in California, Major League Baseball issued recommendations that stadiums string protective netting between the dugouts for any field-level seats within 70 feet of home plate.
These recommendations, however, remain voluntary. Consequently, there are varying amounts of protective netting in all 30 of Major League Baseball’s stadiums. Before the 2016 season, for example, the Chicago White Sox extended protective netting to the home-plate ends of each dugout, but not over the dugouts, a feature that other ballparks have installed. The recent incident at Yankee Stadium has reportedly prompted the Chicago Cubs to extend the safety netting at Wrigley Field at least 30 feet up to the beginning of the dugouts, but not until the 2018 season. So far, only ten teams have fully implemented Major League Baseball’s recommendations.
The voluntary nature of such regulations does not sit well with some lawmakers, who have advocated making the expansion of spectator netting a legal requirement. For example, Ald. Ed Burke of Chicago’s 14th Ward recently proposed an ordinance forcing the Cubs and the White Sox to add more netting.
Despite the apparent risk posed by foul balls in the nation’s ballparks, successfully resolving a foul ball injury lawsuit against Major League Baseball and/or one of its franchises remains an uncertain proposition, thanks to the so-called “Baseball Rule.”
The “Baseball Rule”
For nearly a century, America’s courts have recognized the “Baseball Rule.” While not codified law, the “Baseball Rule” is a legal precedent that imposes a limited duty on the part of a baseball team to protect spectators from foul ball injuries. Different courts have defined this duty in different ways, but teams generally are expected to provide protective screening for spectators in a “zone of danger,” which would include seats near or behind home plate. In defining this area as the “zone of danger,” courts have reasoned that spectators seated there would not have sufficient time to react to foul balls heading towards them, sometimes at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour.
Fans seated outside of the “zone of danger,” however, are typically considered to have assumed the risk of foul ball injury, since their seats offer more reaction time. Consequently, they are expected to be on notice and takes steps to protect themselves, thus limiting their ability to recover financial damages in the case of foul ball injury.
Further hindering the possibility of financial compensation is the insistence by baseball teams that fans “contractually relinquish” their right to sue over a foul ball injury merely by entering the stadium. To that end, baseball tickets feature language on the back stating that a ticketholder “assumes all risk and danger incidental to the game,” including dangers of injury caused by objects, equipment, or other people. Similarly, announcers and signs in baseball stadiums routinely warn fans to pay attention to their surroundings, which may also limit foul ball injury litigation.
Opponents of the “Baseball Rule” argue that it is outdated, claiming that it does not reflect the experience of modern baseball stadiums, which are designed to distract potentially bored patrons with technologically advanced scoreboards, complimentary Wi-Fi, and various promotional activities, among other things. Consequently, fans are less likely to be on the lookout for foul balls, much to their peril.
And how do these competing arguments play out in contemporary foul ball injury lawsuits? The results vary. In April 2017, for instance, the Atlanta Braves settled a lawsuit with the father of a 6-year-old girl whose skull was shattered by a foul ball. On the other hand, the Cleveland Indians were exonerated the month before in a lawsuit brought by a man who partially lost his eyesight when a foul ball struck him in the back of the head.
Personal Injury Lawyers
As you can see, a foul ball injury lawsuit, much like any other type of personal injury litigation, is not a guaranteed home run. For this reason, many injured parties find that they could benefit from the guidance of an experienced personal injury lawyer to help them get the financial compensation that they deserve, like the personal injury lawyers at GWC Injury Lawyers, Illinois’ largest Personal Injury and Workers’ Compensation law firm.
If you or a loved one has been injured, please contact GWC today to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys. Call our office at (312) 464-1234 or click here to chat with one of our representatives.