Extended Net Not Enough To Protect Fan At MLB Game

ESPN.com and the Associated Press reported this morning that a Tampa Bay Rays baseball fan was injured last night when a foul ball struck a woman in the eye. The fan was carted off on a stretcher and taken by ambulance to a local hospital. There have been no reports about the current condition of the injured fan.

This is an interesting situation for Major League Baseball (“MLB”) and the Tampa Rays. As I discussed back in February, MLB recommended that all its teams extend its protective netting to at least the dugout on each side. This would provide an additional 70 feet of netting for fans directly to the left and right of home plate. Several teams have obliged including the Tampa Bay Rays and the defending World Series Champion Kansas City Royals. So MLB and in this instance, Tampa, did the right thing by providing additional protection but it does not appear to enough. From the ESPN.com report: “The ball Friday night went through a gap between the netting that was about the size of 1½ baseballs behind an area designated for photographers. On Saturday, the Rays added additional netting to cover the gap.”

Legally, Tampa Bay and MLB could see repercussions, should the injured fan decide to pursue compensation for her injuries. We have no idea right now how serious her injuries are and whether she will sue. Typically, when a fan buys a ticket to a baseball game, there is fine print on the back of the ticket that is essentially a waiver of rights to sue the team or MLB for injuries from things like foul balls and broken bats. Further, many states (including Illinois), have immunity laws intact to protect professional sports teams from lawsuits stemming from these types of accidents at games. In this instance though, there could be a loophole for the injured fan because the Tampa Bay organization took steps to provide additional protection, but did not do an adequate job of protecting all of its’ fans. Here, they left just enough of a window open between nets for a foul ball to sneak through.  It will be interesting to see how courts will handle this issue should there be any litigation.

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