Fight for Stadium Nets Held to Bay Area Teams

     OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – Major League Baseball fans were dealt a setback in their quest to compel the league to install more robust safety netting at all ballparks, after a federal judge said she lacked the authority to force changes nationwide.
     U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers on April 8 dismissed a portion of a class action filed last July, ruling the Northern District of California lacked jurisdiction to enforce implementation of safety measures throughout all of Major League Baseball’s major and minor league stadiums.
     “Indeed, plaintiffs’ theory of liability apparently centers on each team’s negligence in connection with its own stadium netting and distractions, and its failure to apprise the public of the risks inherent in attending games in its stadium,” Rogers said in the 12-page ruling. “The negligence claim does not challenge the mere participation in the sport of baseball, but rather the stadium conditions and related conduct.”
     The plaintiffs failed to demonstrate how out-of-state major league baseball teams contribute to conditions at stadiums locally, Rogers said.
     “Merely playing games in the state against California-based teams is not sufficient to subject the out-of-state clubs to general personal jurisdiction within California,” she added.
     Lead plaintiff Gail Payne, a lifelong avid Oakland A’s fan, says in her class action that she fears for her family’s safety when they sit in their regular seats along the first-base side of the team’s stadium. The league hasn’t kept pace with advances in the game, Payne claims, saying the maple bats have a tendency to shatter into dangerous shards that sometimes travel into the stands.
     Payne says pitchers throwing harder – coupled with bigger, faster and stronger players hitting searing line drives into foul territory where spectators are routinely injured – have rendered the game more dangerous, necessitating the introduction of safety netting.
     Compounding the problem, Major League Baseball stadiums have introduced several distractions including Wi-Fi, enormous Jumbotrons and fan activities that make it more difficult for fans to concentrate on what’s happening on the field, Payne says.
     She touts advancements in safety netting that make it nearly invisible so it won’t hinder the fans from seeing the game.
     Payne’s attorney Robert Hilliard said the recent ruling will not dissuade his firm from bringing additional suits against teams in their jurisdictional courts.
     “We will continue to pursue the different teams in their home jurisdictions,” Hilliard said. “This issue is such a ‘no-brainer’ as MLB now knows, without any doubt, that it could easily and effectively prevent life threatening injuries or even death by doing something so simple: Require full netting down both sidelines.”
     The league has argued that buying a ticket to a game carries an assumption of risk, which is spelled out in the fine print on tickets. Furthermore, the league provided the court with general statistics that show the incidents of fan injury are low, given the volume of people that attend over the course of the 162-game season.
     But Rogers handed the plaintiffs a minor victory by ordering further jurisdictional discovery related the league’s fan-injury statistics, saying general statistics about fan injury were irrelevant to the plaintiffs’ claim. Instead, she told the league to offer specifics as to the likelihood of an injury to Payne and others who sit in a specific spot in a specific stadium.
     “The data fails to account for the number of games named plaintiffs will likely attend this season or the risk of injury in their specific sections of the two stadiums at issue,” Rogers wrote.
     Another plaintiff, Robert Gorman, bases his claims on his experience at a minor-league park in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the Charlotte Knights plays its home games. Gorman was struck in the head by a foul ball at the team’s former stadium, and he has written a book about fatalities in baseball.
     However, Rogers limited the discovery to fan-injury statistics from the A’s and San Francisco Giants’ stadiums only, and only to the sections in which the named plaintiffs typically sit.
     Hilliard is with the firm Hilliard & Munoz. Major League Baseball is represented by John Keker of Keker & Van Nest, who did not return an email requesting comment by press time.

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