By HELEN CHRISTOPHI
OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – On Wednesday a federal judge tossed class action claims against Major League Baseball calling for more safety netting at baseball parks across the country.
Although U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers indicated in August she might rule for two baseball fans who wanted the additional netting, baseball injury statistics provided to the judge since then persuaded her to grant Major League Baseball’s motion to dismiss the July 2015 suit.
In their amended complaint, Oakland A’s fan Gail Payne and LA Dodgers fan Stephanie Smith said at least 1,750 fans are injured each year by stray balls traveling at peak forces of 8,300 pounds after leaving a bat.
Fans, often children, have been blinded and had their skulls fractured by the balls and by shattering bats, and a 14-year-old boy died at Dodger Stadium after being hit by a ball in 1970, they said.
In April, Gonzalez Rogers dismissed claims against out-of-state baseball clubs but ordered jurisdictional discovery on the likelihood of being injured while sitting in certain sections of the Coliseum and Dodger Stadium before ruling on both plaintiffs’ requests for the netting and Smith’s personal injury claim.
With statistics in hand, Gonzalez Rogers dismissed Payne’s claims in her Wednesday order, finding she hadn’t established injury in fact – Payne hadn’t been injured at an A’s game at the Coliseum, and she planned to attend future games there.
The judge added that Payne’s chances of being injured at the stadium are only 0.0027 percent, according to statistics the defendants gave the court.
“The likelihood that Payne will be injured by a foul ball or a bat while attending an A’s game at the Oakland Coliseum does not meet the threshold of ‘certainly impending,'” Gonzalez wrote in the 12-page order.
Although Payne had argued that her fear of injury conferred standing, Gonzalez Rogers disagreed.
“‘Speculation or subjective apprehension about future harm’ does not support standing,” she said. “There is no such credible or immediate threat that plaintiff Payne will be hit by a foul ball or a bat, only that if the rare event happened, the injury could be life-changing.”
Gonzalez Rogers said Smith lacked standing for similar reasons.
Because Smith testified she wouldn’t attend a baseball game during the 2016 or 2017 season, she isn’t at “imminent” risk of being injured at a game, the judge said.
If Smith did attend a game, her risk of injury, at 0.018 percent, would be too small to confer standing, Gonzalez Rogers added.
“The risk that Payne will be injured does not rise to the requisite threshold,” she said.
Gonzalez Rogers also dismissed Smith’s personal injury claim against the Dodgers because it was filed in an improper venue, but said she could refile the claim in the Central District where the team is located.
Smith suffered a collapsed lung and broken ribs when she was hit by a foul ball at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles last year.
Although Gonzalez Rogers found the risk of getting hurt by a stray ball or bat to be low, she acknowledged such injuries have become more serious as the technology undergirding the game has advanced.
“The court finds that, while rare, the severity of injuries that baseball spectators sustain in the modern era as a result of foul balls is significantly more severe than in the past,” she said. “The change is of concern, especially given its impact on children.”
The plaintiffs are represented by Steve Berman of Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro in Seattle.
Major League Baseball is represented by Adam Lauridsen with Keker & Van Nest in San Francisco.
Neither attorney could be reached for comment.