During the summer of 2018 a woman was attending a Houston Astros baseball game. Between one of the innings, the Astros’ mascot was launching free t-shirts into the crowd. One of those t-shirts struck this women in the hand, and apparently caused a serious injury. Since that time the woman alleges she has had multiple surgeries, missed time from work and has suffered serious pain and suffering. As a result, a lawsuit has been filed by a personal injury lawyer on behalf of the woman against the Houston Astros alleging negligence by the team and their mascot.
According to a personal injury law firm, there have been similar lawsuits filed against in Major League Baseball in the past. I wrote about the case in Kansas City where a fan was hit in the face by a hot dog launched by a similar style gun. That man suffered a detached retina in one of his eyes, and unfortunately he lost his case before a jury. Major League franchises, including teams in the baseball, have in the past been protected with immunity for injuries that come as a result of foul balls and broken bats. According to a personal injury lawyer all teams put a disclaimer on their tickets stating fans are assuming the risk of these potential accidents and injuries while attending games. This is often called the “baseball rule.” That legal theory, in place for about a century, presumes an inherent risk among those attending a baseball game, and assigns fans responsibility for paying attention and being prepared for the occasional ball or bat coming their way. But should that apply to antics put on by the team in between innings like launching t-shirts into the crowd?
I have not seen the complaint filed in the Astros case, but I am curious if they have filed a product liability claim against the manufacturer of the t-shirt launcher. They could allege that the gun is inherently dangerous and/or defective due to the speed in which the t-shirts are launched. Also, I would imagine that the attorneys for the Astros will file multiple affirmative defenses including comparative negligence. These types of defenses attempt to shift the blame on the Plaintiff, and will depend on the facts of the accident that will come out during depositions. Specifically, that type of defense would hinge on how active this women was in attempting to catch the t-shirt. Did she stick her arms out and partake in attempting to catch the t-shirt? Or, was the just an innocent bystander? Also, the Astros defense team will more likely than not file a motion to dismiss based on the assumption of risk disclaimer discussed above.
I think this woman faces an uphill challenge of getting her case actually before a jury (due to expected motions to dismiss), and ultimately winning at trial. I wish her and her team luck as she appears to have suffered real permanent damage to her hand, and I believe the courts have gone way too far out of their way to protect teams when injuries like this occur. Especially, when the injuries are caused by acts by the mascots rather than foul balls or broken bats.