A judge has ruled that a White Sox lawsuit filed by a man who was injured by a foul ball may move forward.
White Sox Lawsuit Alleges Conscious Disregard
In a written opinion issued on May 25, 2021, Cook County Circuit Judge Kathy M. Flanagan did not rule upon the merits of the White Sox lawsuit. However, she held that the plaintiff had adequately stated a cause of action for willful and wanton conduct against the Chicago White Sox and Chisox Corp., the general partner of the limited partnership that owns the team.
In September 2018, the plaintiff in the White Sox lawsuit, Edward Rybarski, attended a White Sox game at Guaranteed Rate Field. He sat in the front row of the spectator section slightly outside the protection of baseline-to-baseline netting that had been installed. His nose was broken when he was struck in the face by a foul ball traveling more than 100 miles per hour.
Rybarski’s lawsuit alleges that the White Sox knew that the protective netting at its ballpark was insufficient to safeguard spectators but failed to remedy the problem in conscious disregard for the safety of others. The White Sox extended the protective netting in July 2019, making it the first Major League Baseball team to host a game in a park with netting extending from foul pole to foul pole.
The White Sox lawsuit contains two counts. Count 1 accuses Major League Baseball of negligence, while Count 2 accuses the White Sox and Chisox of willful and wanton conduct.
Motion to Dismiss Had Been Filed
The White Sox and Chisox had filed a motion to dismiss the count against them, arguing that the facts alleged would only support a claim of negligence. They also argued that they are shielded from liability by the Illinois Baseball Facility Liability Act.
Under the terms of this Act, the owners and operators of ballparks are immune from liability for injuries sustained when someone is hit by a ball or a bat. However, exceptions to this rule apply when the injured party is shielded by netting or a screen that is defective because of the owner’s or operator’s negligence or when the injury is the result of willful and wanton conduct on the part of the owner or operator.
Judge Flanagan noted that the defendants “appear to suggest” that the Baseball Facility Liability Act was designed to shield all parties for responsibility for any injuries caused by foul balls, but the Act’s plain language “clearly provides for a willful and wanton exception.”
Limiting the exception to willful and wanton conduct, Judge Flanagan wrote, “encourages baseball team owners to build and maintain parks for the sport of baseball” because they know that they would not be held liable for foul ball injuries stemming from negligence. Furthermore, she wrote that willful and wanton conduct does not include “inadvertence, incompetence, or unskillfulness.” Therefore, Rybarski sufficiently alleged a claim for willful and wanton conduct.
“There are facts pled to show that the defendants had knowledge of a dangerous condition and injuries, as well as engaged in a course of action exhibiting a conscious disregard for the safety of others,” she added.
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