My students and I followed the score in the Nationals/Cubs games yesterday in class. I was overjoyed with the final win for the Cubs at the end of the class. However, the Cubs are facing a challenging lawsuit in court that raises, again, the question of liability for fans injured during games. John “Jay” Loos, 60, was hit in the eye during the August 29th game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. He lost sight in the eye and is now suing over the alleged negligence in not extending the protective netting.
In my torts class, I teach sports injuries as part of a discussion of strict liability versus negligence standards. An argument can be made that stadiums are “the cheapest cost avoiders” for the purposes of strict liability for fan injuries from balls and bats. Teams have greater information and the ability to minimize risks associated with the game.
However, even under negligence, there is a case for liability for failing to take precautions with added nettings and other steps. One such case involved the injury caused to the eye of a fan at a Kansas City Royals game from a launched foil covered hot dog.
In this case, it was a line drive that hit Loos, who was sitting near the field.
Recently, a 2-year-old girl was hit in the face by a 105 mph line drive that caused her extensive facial injuries. These cases have magnified calls to extend protective netting. Over 70 percent of foul balls reach the stands in a MLB game. Just looking at Fenway Park, a spectator is hurt by a stray ball or bat once every three or four games. While many fans want to catch these balls, the high-risk areas are concentrated from the home plate to the end of the dugouts. Some teams have already extended the nets in that critical area.
I have long maintained that there is a clear negligence case to be made against teams for insufficient netting under common law torts. That does not mean total netting but protection for the most dangerous line drives closer to the home plate.
What do you think?