Plaintiffs Strike Out in Suit Seeking to Extend MLB Stadium Safety Netting

Plaintiffs’ hopes of extending the foul ball safety net further down the first- and third-base lines at all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums were dashed recently when a California U.S. District Court dismissed the lawsuit for lack of standing. The plaintiffs’, Oakland Athletics fan Gail Payne and Los Angeles Dodgers fan Stephanie Smith, claim that the extension of the safety net was required to protect fans from injuries caused by foul balls and broken bats, but U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers found the plaintiffs failed to show a sufficient likelihood that they would be injured at future games and therefore did not have adequate standing for the proposed class-action lawsuit.

While Judge Rogers agreed with the plaintiffs’ assertion that hard-throwing pitchers, wooden bats that splinter easily, and distractions like Wi-Fi put unaware fans at greater risk of harm if the safety nets were not extended from “foul pole to foul pole,” Rogers also cited to data provided by defendant Major League Baseball that the risk of serious injury to the plaintiffs at future games was less than 0.0027 percent. For this reason, Rogers failed to see any “credible or immediate threat.” Additionally, Smith, who had already been injured at a Dodgers game, was found to be even less at risk because her prior injuries would create greater awareness during the game. Lastly, Rogers rejected the plaintiffs’ claims that “fear of injury” made it harder to enjoy the game because standing is not supported by a speculative or subjective apprehension about future harm and fans could choose to sit in different seats.

In December, 2015, the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball issued recommendations to all 30 MLB clubs asking to implement procedures aimed at protecting fans attending baseball games while maintaining the integrity of the baseball experience. The commissioner recommended the stadiums and clubs install netting between both dugouts and within 70 feet of home plate, and work with online ticket sellers to provide customers with additional safety information about their specific seats at the time of purchase.

This latest decision seems to reiterate courts long-standing idea that fans assume the risk of foul balls and broken bats flying into the stands at baseball games.

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