As OC residents begin to flock back to Angels Stadium this week, with the Major League Baseball Season starting up, a recent lawsuit raises timely questions about fan safety when sitting or walking around a large municipal baseball stadium.
How safe is it? And if you get hit by a ball, who’s responsible?
For years, Major League Baseball has largely been protected when fans get hit by foul balls by what’s been called “the baseball rule,” where judges figure anyone walking into a ball stadium accepts the risk they may get hit by a ball.
But with more fans filing lawsuits stemming from injuries from foul balls, MLB Teams have been extending foul ball netting.
Yet on the heels of opening day, a recent Orange County lawsuit is now raising questions about activities that take place where fans are walking onto the field before games.
An Anaheim family is suing the Los Angeles Angels for allegedly failing to provide enough safety measures – like foul ball netting – after their six-year old son suffered a fractured skull after being hit in the head by a wild throw during the team’s warmups in 2019.
Attorneys for the family say the ‘baseball rule’ doesn’t apply in this case because the headshot happened before the game and there wasn’t an expectation of getting hit by a baseball outside of a game.
Before a September 2019 Angels game, Bryson Galaz was walking with his father to the dugouts to get autographs – a Major League Baseball tradition for many fans.
It was then a wild throw hit Galaz in the head, sending him to the Children’s Hospital of Orange County, according to a news release.
“For three days we lived in agony as doctors weighed whether brain surgery was necessary to save Bryson’s life,” said Bryson’s mother, Beatrise Galaz, in the Thursday news release.
The hit is apparently impacting Bryson Galaz’s learning ability.
“We’re grateful that he pulled through, but since that day he has struggled in school. He’s simply not the same,” Beatrise Galaz said.
The family is alleging the Angels neglected a major safety measure: extending foul ball netting beyond the dugout.
“The [stadium] presented risks to spectators at the [stadium] prior to the beginning of scheduled baseball game, including Plaintiff, beyond those inherent to the sport of baseball because it failed to provide any warnings to spectators of the risk of regarding any dangers to spectators,” reads the lawsuit.
Angels spokesperson Marie Garvey said the ball team is unable to comment on the lawsuit.
“No parties have reached out to us regarding this lawsuit. We have only been made aware of this by the media, so we are unable to comment at this time,” Garvey said in a Thursday email.
Traditionally, safety netting used to be only behind home plate.
But a rise in fan injuries from foul balls has been forcing major league teams to extend the netting, with some teams extending it all the way to the foul poul, like the Chicago White Sox, according to NBC News.
NBC reporters found more than 800 people were struck by baseballs at stadiums through 2012 to 2019.
In 2018, Linda Goldbloom was struck in the head by a foul ball at Dodger Stadium and died four days later, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Major League Baseball teams began extending their safety netting in recent years after a rise in foul ball injuries.
For years, baseball teams and their owners were virtually protected from such lawsuits – known as the Baseball Rule, where courts essentially said fans should know the inherent risk of going to a ball game.
Injury lawsuits against Major League Baseball teams usually end up getting tossed out on those grounds.
But, according to Sports Illustrated, that rule could be on the chopping block because of recent lawsuits.
“Almost all of those cases end up being kicked on summary judgment,” said Keith Bruno, an attorney for the Galaz family.
“This is substantially different,” Bruno said in an interview, adding that the case against the Angels is different because Bryson Galaz was hit well ahead of a scheduled game.
Meanwhile, teams have been extending the safety netting farther down the foul lines.
It’s something, Bruno says, that shows baseball owners are aware of the safety risk.
“There’s some acknowledgement that what they’re doing is dangerous,” he said.
Kyle Scott, another attorney for the Galaz family, pointed out that nearly every baseball stadium in Japan has netting extended all the way to foul poles.
In the Thursday news release, Nick Rowley, also representing the Galaz family, criticized the lack of safety netting when Bryson Galaz was hit.
“It’s a reckless practice, and unlike other teams the Angels didn’t extend the protective netting that should have been there to protect the kids even after Major League Baseball put them on notice of this very danger,” Rowley said.
In December 2019, roughly three months after Bryson Galaz was struck, the Angels extended their safety netting further down the foul line, Bruno and Scott said.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the netting was extended by 35 feet down the foul lines.
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