Can a Baseball Fan Argue Fear is Sufficient Injury in Class Action?

On July 11, 2013, Gail Payne filed a class-action lawsuit against Major League Baseball (MLB) in the Federal District Court in Northern California. Payne claimed the MLB did not do enough to “protect fans from fast-moving balls and splintered bats.” Payne and the class members were seeking injunctive relief: to create better protections to MLB fans by adding more netting to stop foul balls and broken bats along the first and third-base lines.

The lawsuit referenced a study by Bloomberg News in 2014, which reported 1,750 baseball spectators were injured each year. According to the complaint, the lawsuit’s class members represent all spectators in the “Danger Zone,” which is defined as “any unnetted/uncovered area between home plate and the foul plates located at the end of the right and left field lines.”

Originally, the class action was filed against each individual MLB team (30 teams), Commissioner Rob Manfred, and the league itself. The MLB countered the lawsuit with a motion to dismiss, asserting the defense that the plaintiffs lacked standing and that the court lacked jurisdiction over “Out-Of-State Clubs.” After oral arguments and supplemental briefs regarding jurisdiction, the judge sided with the MLB over the jurisdiction issue concerning the clubs located outside of California in April 2016. It granted a motion to dismiss in part, “insofar as it seeks dismissal of claims asserted against the Out-of -State Clubs for lack of personal jurisdiction.”

This severely limited the breadth of the lawsuit; however, the judge delayed responding to whether the plaintiffs—baseball spectators—had standing. Following further briefings, the case is waiting for the judge to respond whether the case will proceed. According to the plaintiffs, the evidence “demonstrates unequivocally” that they have suffered by the “lack of sufficient safety netting.” The plaintiffs argue they cannot enjoy a game because of fear of being injured while in the stadium.

The MLB countered on the August 9, 2016: “[i]f she feels that sitting behind a ‘net’ is now ‘a requirement,’ then she can purchase seats behind the net or she can refrain from attending games,” MLB said. “In either case, though, she cannot show a certainly impending injury.” Further, the limited jurisdiction lowered the likelihood of injury in a baseball stadium. At Oakland (where Payne attends), one injury occurred out of the 36,766 tickets sold over three years. This statistic puts the injury rate far below 1 percent.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers will be deciding this issue, and whether the case can proceed.

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