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Fans Sue MLB for More Protection From Foul Balls, Broken Bats

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on July 15, 2015 10:59 AM

In the wake of several horrifying injuries in the stands, a fan has filed a class action lawsuit against Major League Baseball seeking additional protection from wayward bats and balls. The suit, filed in California by an Oakland A's season ticket holder, wants MLB to extend existing safety netting the full length of the foul lines.

According to a 2014 Bloomberg study, 1,750 fans a year are injured by batted balls. Just last month, a woman at Boston's Fenway Park was seriously injured after being struck in the head by a piece of a broken bat.

The (In)Famous Baseball Rule

The general legal principle regarding fan injuries is so commonly invoked by baseball teams it bears that sport's name. The baseball rule generally holds that fans injured by foul balls can't sue. This is based on the idea that fans assume the risk of injury by attending baseball games and should be aware of the danger of foul balls and broken bats.

But the baseball rule may be weakening: a Georgia court recently refused to apply the rule against the family of a girl who suffered traumatic brain injuries after being hit by a foul ball at a Braves game.

New Baseball Rules?

This recent suit is also different than many injury claims that have come before it. First, although it is filed by one lead plaintiff, it is a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of all season ticket holders who sit in areas along the first and third base lines unprotected by netting. The judge in the case will have to certify the class in order for the claim to proceed.

Second, the suit isn't in response to a specific injury at a game, but seeks to prevent future injuries. And third, the lawsuit names MLB as a defendant, rather than a specific team. The lawsuit points out that baseball has taken precautions against player and coach injuries, but not taken adequate measures to protect fans.

According to MLB spokesman Pat Courtney: "Major League Baseball is in the process of re-evaluating all issues pertaining to fan safety, comfort and expectations. We are discussing these issues with the clubs, and the Major League Baseball Players Association also could become a party to these conversations."

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