Astros Quickly Settle Lawsuit by Family of Girl who was Injured by a Foul Ball

Last week news broke that the Houston Astros were being sued by the family of a girl who was hit by a foul ball at Minute Maid Park in 2019.

The lawsuit was filed on Thursday,  and settled by Saturday.

While the speedy settlement likely had more to do with the optics of the court of public opinion, versus any legal jeopardy the Astros faced in a court of Law, nonetheless the case was settled for the usual “undisclosed amount” and parties are likely now under gag orders to prevent releasing any details.

So, anyone looking for a Doug Llewelyn style interviews outside of the People’s Court of Public Opinion is likely going to be waiting a long time to get the gritty details.

The Houston Astros settled a lawsuit two days after it was filed. The quick settlement was likely the result of the optics of the court of public opinion, versus any legal jeopardy the Astros faced in a Court of Law. The Astros certainly had the money to make the issue go away quickly by settling, but the question one should be asking is, should they have settled in the bigger picture?
Graphic R. Anderson

The Astros certainly had the money to make the issue go away by settling, but the question one should be asking is, should they have settled in the bigger picture?

To be perfectly clear, a young child getting injured at a baseball game is definitely a terrible thing.

However, it does not mean that the Astros, or Major League Baseball for that matter are negligent.

Throughout my life, I have had numerous opportunities to delve into legal issues from both an academic and practical standpoint. While most of my legal studies have been focused on media law and First Amendment issues, back when I was working on my M.S. degree in Sport Management one of my favorite courses was on legal issues in sport.

Among the myriad topics covered in the course was liability within a Ballpark.

Whether they are aware or not, anyone who attends a baseball game, or most any other live sporting event for that matter, enters into a contract of sorts with the team running the facility through the very act of purchasing a ticket.

While the wording may very slightly, almost every ticket purchased for a baseball game will include something similar to the following verbiage, “the holder assumes all risk and dangers incidental to the game of baseball including specifically (but not exclusively) the danger of being injured by thrown or batted balls.”

In addition to the wording on the tickets, signage throughout the Ballpark, as well as pregame announcements, tell those in attendance to be “foul ball aware” when they are in the Ballpark.

Of course, even with all of those precautions a study by Bloomberg noted that there were an estimated 1,756 injuries sustained at MLB baseball stadiums due to foul balls in 2013. That translates to an average of almost three injuries for every four games played.

Years ago, I saw this sign at a Pensacola Pelicans game at the University of West Florida. While the wording on this sign took a non-standard approach to address the issue, Ballparks from coast to coast have similar warnings to let fans know to be “foul ball aware” at all times.
Photo R. Anderson

Thanks to advanced technology on launch angle and exit velocity, it is now confirmed that a foul ball can enter the stands at upwards of 100 miles per hour.

So, it is in a fan’s best interest to pay attention if they are in the impact zone.

The number of injuries caused by foul balls in many cases can be attributed to fans being distracted on their phones or other devices instead of watching the game. As noted many times before, I will never understand people who go to a Ballpark and do not actually watch the game on the field.

Also, if someone does want to go to the Ballpark and not watch what is happening on the field, they should definitely not sit in the sections where the majority of foul balls and other projectiles are going to go.

Back when I lived in Orlando, and would go to Sea World, I certainly would not sue if I got wet while sitting in the splash zone of Shamu Stadium. The signs clearly say, if you sit here there is a good chance you are going to get wet with cold whale water.

Back when I lived in Orlando and would go to Sea World, I certainly would not sue if I got wet while sitting in the splash zone of Shamu Stadium. The signs clearly say, if you sit here there is a good chance you are going to get wet with cold whale water.
Photo R. Anderson

In the same way, if I sit in the lower bowl of a ballpark where there isn’t any netting, I know to watch out when the batter is up.

Additionally, I know to pay particular attention to whether I am sitting where a lefty is most likely to shank the ball, or a righty.

Just like I don’t blame Shamu if I get wet in the splash zone, I am certainly not going to blame a batter or the team they play for if a foul ball enters the stands.

However, for the sake of argument, let us say that there are fans, like the couple who sued the Astros, who bring their child into a high foul ball rich environment and decide to take legal action after the child, or anyone else, is hit by a ball that signs, ticket verbiage and Jumbotron messages told them to look for. What are the chances that a judge will actually rule in their favor?

It turns out that chance of winning in court is very unlikely, which makes the quickness in which the Astros wrote a check to make the bad PR optics go away even more intriguing.

Again, I feel for the child who was injured, but I definitely question the wisdom of anyone who would sit in an unprotected area of a Ballpark with a small child.

To be fair, very few people are ever going to be hit by a foul ball in their lifetime, but there are definitely places in a Ballpark where you are more likely to be hit than other areas.

The speed in which the Astros settled to make the lawsuit go away was very likely the goal of the lawsuit all along, since legal precedence shows that the advantage in a “Fan v. Ballpark” case almost always should go to the Ballpark.

When a fan is injured by a projectile and decides to sue, he or she is likely to be confronted with a judicially created defense known as “the baseball rule.”

Although it evolved through additional cases over time, the baseball rule was first mentioned in the 1913 court case Crane v. Kansas City Baseball & Exhibition Co., 153 S.W. 1076.

While watching a Kansas City Blues game, a spectator named S.J. Crane was injured by a foul ball. When he sued the team and its owner, the trial court granted summary judgment for the defendants.

In their decision the Kansas City Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court ruling for three reasons: 1) foul balls are a fundamental part of baseball; 2) being struck by a foul ball is a well-known risk of attending baseball games; and; 3) Crane voluntarily chose to sit in an unprotected part of the stadium.

The logic being, fans make a conscience decision to put themselves in the potential path of a foul ball since the Ballpark offers many seats where a fan will not experience a close encounter with a baseball.

Or in whale terms, Crane knowingly sat where the chance the orca would splash him was very high, versus choosing a seat where it was dry.

The Houston Astros even became part of the legal precedent reinforcing the baseball rule set forth in a later case testing the question of how many screened seats is reasonable.

While the exact number of seats that must be screened remains unquantified, in Martinez v. Houston McLane Co., 414 S.W.3d 219, a lawsuit against the Houston Astros, the Texas Court of Appeals found it sufficient that 5,000 of Minute Maid Park’s 41,000 seats were screened.

As part of the baseball defense against litigation Ballparks most offer a percentage of their seats behind netting to give fans a choice on their level of exposure. While courts have yet to state an exact percentage of screen protected seats that are required, over the past few years more and more seats at Ballparks have been placed behind nets to try to minimize fan interaction with errant foul balls that can enter the stands at as much as 100 MPH.
Photo R. Anderson

In the years since the Martinez v. Houston McLane Co. decision, even more seats are now behind netting based in part on Major League Baseball trying to improve the optics of distracted fans getting injured by foul balls.

Since 2019, many Ballparks extended the netting around the infield thus ruining the view for people who like to see the game without looking through a net. As a result, more people are now able to zone out and not watch the action on the field.

While teams are largely protected from lawsuits involving fans getting hit during the actual game play, that protection from legal recourse does not include things that happen between innings as noted by another court case.

In the 2013 case Coomer v. Kansas City Royals Baseball Corp., 437 S.W.3d 184 the Missouri Supreme Court held that the baseball rule did not bar a lawsuit brought by a spectator named John Coomer, who was hit in the eye by a hot dog thrown by the team’s mascot.

Although acknowledging that such mascot hot dog throwing antics regularly occur at Ballparks as a means to keep fans entertained during stoppages of play, the court concluded: “[T]he risk of being injured by Sluggerrr’s hotdog toss is not one of the inherent risks of watching a Royals home game.”

To summarize, baseball teams are legally protected in most cases when a fan is hit in the face by a ball, but not when they are hit in the face by a wiener.

At the end of the day, it does not matter what the legal precedence says regarding the chances the Astros had to win their case in court. As with many lawsuits against corporations in the public eye a decision was made to settle and make it go away.

While teams are largely protected from lawsuits involving fans getting hit during the actual game play, that does not include things that happen between innings. As such Orbit better watch where he points his slingshot lest he shoot someone’s eye out Ralphie style.
Photo R. Anderson

Such is the state of the current lawsuit happy judicial system, where the modus operandi seems to be sue and hope for a quick settlement.

Again, I feel terrible that a two-year-old girl received a fractured skull and all of the other medical issues that followed her encounter with a foul ball, but I seriously question why her parents chose those seats and then sued when a foul ball hit her.

People need to pay attention at the Ballpark and not expect the MLB to surround them in bubble wrap so they can blissfully ignore the action on the field.

Here’s hoping the settlement by the Astros does not open the floodgates of other fans trying to make money off of accidents that a ticket stub clearly told them to watch out for.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all of this legal talk has me in the mood for a Boston Legal marathon. Denny Crane.

Copyright 2021 R. Anderson

Way Back Wednesday: Remembering When the Tampa Bay Rays Joined My Triple Double Ballpark Club

Editor’s Note: As part of our occasional Way Back Wednesday feature, today we look back to the time that I saw the Tampa Bay Rays play at Minute Maid Park for the second time which gave them entry into the Triple Double Ballpark Club. With the Rays knocking out the Houston Astros and heading to the 2020 World Series it seemed a fitting time to reminisce.

As an aside, in the years since this column first appeared in 2013, and in keeping with the World Series theme, I had the chance to see the Texas Rangers, who are playing host to the 2020 World Series match up between the Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers at their new Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, play the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, California, and again in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg against the Tampa Bay Rays. With those two new additions, the Texas Rangers became the first team I have seen play in four different MLB Ballparks.

If you had asked me who I thought the first team I would see in four Ballparks would have been, it is doubtful the I would have said the Texas Rangers. Nevertheless, the Rangers are the charter member of the Cuatro Single Ballpark Club, as well as having membership in the Double Double Ballpark Club.  

In addition to seeing the Rangers on two coasts in the seven years since this column first appeared, I also added trips to Coors Field in Denver Colorado, and Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California bringing my total MLB Ballpark count to seven out of 30. When the world of baseball reopens, I hope to continue my quest to see all 30 MLB Ballparks. Until then, please enjoy this blast from the past on this World Series inspired Way Back Wednesday.

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Tonight, July 3, 2013, at around 7:30 or so, I will be at Minute Maid Park watching the Tampa Bay Rays play the Houston Astros in the third game of a four-game series.

While the night will include post-game fireworks to celebrate the Fourth of July, it occurs to me that it will mark another milestone as well.

While it did not cross my mind at the time when I purchased my ticket, tonight’s game will mark the second time that I have seen the Rays play in Houston. Add that to seeing the Rays play two games at Tropicana Field and two games at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and the Rays become the first member of my Triple Double Club.

There have been numerous teams that I have watched come and go through Minute Maid Park through the years.

Fresh off their first World Series appearance in 2008 I visited the Tampa Bay Rays in 2009 for a long overdue trip to Tropicana Field.
Photo R. Anderson

But with the exception of seeing a few of them for Spring Training games, there have not been many that I have seen in multiple Ballparks so the Rays induction in the Triple Double Club is sort of a big deal.

The fact that the event will be met with post game fireworks is sort of a happy coincidence.

Okay so the Triple Double Club may be something that only matters to me but I thought that it was pretty cool.  Considering that I have only made it to four of the 30 Major League Ballparks so far, the fact that I saw the same team twice at three of those ballparks is nothing to sneeze at.

I have seen the Baltimore Orioles play at three stadiums during the regular season but only once at each ballpark so they are in the Triple Single Club. Of course, seeing them play in two different Ballparks over a four-day period gives them bonus points. And I have seen them play in three ballparks over the years during Spring Training.

A second ballpark viewing of the Rays was added in Arlington when I saw them take on the Texas Rangers.
Photo R. Anderson

The Texas Rangers are in the Double Double Club as I have watched them at both their home Ballpark and Minute Maid Park.

It stands to reason that they would be a strong candidate to join the Triple Double Club as all it would take was a trip to an additional ballpark when they were in town to get them there.

The Toronto Blue Jays make it into the Double Single Club as I have seen them play at both Tropicana Field and Minute Maid Park.

The Houston Astros are the team I have watched the most due to the close proximity between my house and the Minute Maid Park.  I have probably seen close to 100 games at Minute Maid Park over the past decade but ironically I have never seen them play a regular season game at any other Ballpark.

I’ve made numerous trips to Florida to see the Astros play in Spring Training games but during the regular season it seems that the desire to see them play far from home just doesn’t exist. In that way the Astros closeness is both a blessing and a curse.

Minute Maid Park became the third ballpark to watch the Rays in when I saw them take on the Houston Astros in 2011.
Photo R. Anderson

There have been years where I thought about making the four hour drive to see them play the Texas Rangers in Arlington but those thoughts were usually quashed quickly at the thought that I could just wait until the Rangers came to Houston.

But there are certainly worse places to watch games than Minute Maid Park.

With the Astros moving to the American League this year the odds of me completing the Single Thirty Club of seeing all 30 teams at Minute Maid Park is pretty high.

I do not have the number in front of me but it seems highly likely that I am less than five teams away from reaching that goal of seeing all 30 teams from the air-conditioned comfort of Minute Maid Park.

Off of the top of my head I know I have yet to see the New York Yankees play there but the other teams that I am missing escape me at the moment. The Oakland Athletics seem like another team that I have yet to see play but with them sharing a division with the Astros that is an easy team to cross off of the list.

Tonight will mark the sixth Tampa Bay Rays regular season game that I have attended and the second at Minute Maid Park earning an inaugural induction into the Triple Double Club as I have seen a pair of games at Tropicana Field, Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, and Minute Maid Park.
Photo R. Anderson

I suppose it is entirely possible that the Yankees and Athletics are the only missing teams but I will definitely have to look into that.

I do know that the National League, and in particular the National League Central, is well represented in my list of teams that I have seen multiple times there.

While the focus tonight will be placed firmly on enjoying the Rays and the induction of the first member of the Triple Double Club the festivities will be short lived.

Tomorrow afternoon I will start my way towards the Triple Triple Club as I will be catching a matinee game between the Rays and the Astros.

I guess that means I need to plan road trips back to Arlington and St. Petersburg to complete the Triple Triple Club for the Rays.  I don’t think my arm will be twisted too hard to make that happen.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to decide which Rays shirt to wear to tomorrow’s game.

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Epilogue: In the years since this column first ran, the Tampa Bay Rays joined the Triple Double Ballpark Club following trips to see them play at Minutes Maid Park and Tropicana Field. As such, the Rays are just a trip to Arlington away from making the Triple Triple Ballpark Club. Hopefully a trip to Arlington to see the Rangers and Rays play will be able to take place in 2021. I also was able to complete my journey of seeing all 30 MLB teams play at Minute Maid Park when the New York Yankees came to town.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

 

 

Astros Owner, Jim Crane, Just Made One of the Most Tone-Deaf Statements Ever Uttered

As I mentioned the other day, after much soul searching, I have decided that I am done supporting the Houston Astros. I have lost all respect for them as an organization, and I really do not see them earning my respect back any time soon.

This was not an easy decision for me to reach. I have a lot of great memories of supporting the Astros, however statements like the one made by team owner Jim Crane on June 24th, only reinforce the stance that is time for me to retire my Astros fandom, just like the new owners retired poor Junction Jack as their mascot.

I really want to stop writing about the Astros, but when they throw a fast ball down the middle of the plate, I have no other choice but to knock it out of the park.

To set the stage, with Major League Baseball set to return in the middle of a global pandemic with a 60-games in 66 days mini season, and the Houston Astros already facing scorn for getting caught cheating, it is almost like Crane said to the person standing next to him at one of the golf courses that he owns, “hold my nachos, I am going to say something so absurd that they will forget about the fact that we cheated in 2017.”

In one of the most tone deaf, failing to take the temperature of the room, comments that I have ever heard, Crane was quoted by many news outlets as saying that in order to recoup some of the money that he has lost by the Astros not playing a full season, he wants to have fans at games at Minute Maid Park this season in order to raise revenue selling concessions and team tchotchkes.

Houston Astros Owner Jim Crane is eager to recoup some of the money that he has lost by the Astros not playing a full season, having fans at games at Minute Maid Park this season in order to raise revenue selling concessions and team tchotchkes.
Photo R. Anderson

Crane’s ludicrous comments also come amid the backdrop of Houston health officials warning that they’re running out of ER space because of a surge in COVID-19 cases.

That means that even someone who does not have COVID-19, but needs to go to the ER because of something like a car accident, may not be able to get the lifesaving treatment that they need.

Crane’s remarks are like giving a single foam finger salute to Houston and the surrounding region by saying I want your money more than I want you to be safe.

Crane’s “let them eat cake” moment translated in Ballpark parlance as “let them eat garlic fries” as a COVID-19 pandemic surrounds Minute Maid Park is so out of touch with reality. A better optic would have been created if Crane offered up the meeting space inside the Union Station area of the Ballpark as a potential surge hospital for COVID-19 patients instead of wanting to open up the Ballpark to potentially create more patients for an overtaxed health district

At 71-years-old, Dusty Baker, is the oldest manager in MLB. Baker, who also happens to manage the Astros, told the Associated Press that, “I’m a bit nervous. I’ve seen the reports in Houston how COVID’s going up so I’m going to have to really be careful.”

Houston Astros owner Jim Crane’s “let them eat cake” moment translated in Ballpark parlance as “let them eat garlic fries” seems a bit tone deaf in light of the raging COVID-19 pandemic that surrounds Minute Main Park. A better optic would have been created if Crane offered up the meeting space inside the ballpark as a potential surge hospital instead of wanting to open up the Ballpark to create more patients for an overtaxed health district.
Photo R. Anderson

Part of that need to be careful involves Baker’s age which puts him in the higher risk category. But, it seems that Crane is willing to expose Baker to more people in order to make a buck.

While Crane is ready to go full speed ahead as soon as possible, Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, is hitting the pause button on reopening the state amid a “massive outbreak.”

Abbott is urging all Texas residents to stay home unless they absolutely have to go somewhere to try to corral the deadly virus that is rolling through the state like floodwaters indiscriminately affecting everything in its path.

If the Governor, who was once one of the most pro reopening advocates in the country, is saying it is time to slow down and stay home, sorry Jim, going to watch a baseball game is not an essential function.

To be fair, there are likely fans who will be willing to go to games and risk their health in order to see some baseball in a Ballpark so quiet you can hear a trash can drop. But, in order to have fans buying food and tchotchkes, you need to have, ticket takers to let the fans in, security to protect the fans, concession workers to make the food, workers to sell the food, and workers to man the cash registers at the gift shops.

Oh yeah, and you need to have workers to empty the trash cans that are full of the trash generated by those fans, as well as workers to disinfect the Ballpark from top to bottom to get ready for the next game. Perhaps the players can help with the cleanup since I hear they know their way around a trash can.

It really shouldn’t be a shock that the owner of the Astros is the most vocal in wanting fans and their money to return. His entire tenure has been one big monetizing of the ballpark. Who can forget the time the view of downtown was blocked by huge billboards that would make a Minor League Ballpark manager say, “that is a step too far.” Thankfully the eyesore was relocated prior to the 2014 season.
Photo R. Anderson

Each of the people who enter the Ballpark will run the risk of getting infected, and in turn, they run the risk of infecting others when they go home. I am sorry, but no helmet full of nachos, or team shirt, is worth that amount of risk.

If I do not want players in the Ballparks due to potential risk of virus spread, I definitely do not want fans adding to the number of potential super spreaders.

Of course, as noted last week, the Sugar Land Skeeters are also looking to host about 1,700 people a game in a mini summer four-team league they are running at Constellation Field starting in early July. It is entirely possible that Crane thought that if the Skeeters can make money during a pandemic, he should be able to as well. Any fans allowed at either Skeeters or Astros games would need to be socially distanced and wearing a mask.

I totally get it; people are tired of being locked up inside. I would love to run free outside the walls of the Gigaplex, eat fried catfish on my favorite restaurant patio with a half and half tea, and act like the world is back to the way it was in the olden days of pre-March 2020.

But wishing it to be true, and going out there and acting like it is true, does not make it true.

The only thing acting like everything is fine, and there is nothing to see here does, is risk my health, and the health of those I love and care about.

And yes, it even risks the health of those I don’t care about. But, I care enough about people I don’t care about to not want to get them sick either.

Based on his comments, billionaire Crane appears to care mostly about back filling his pockets like a money vault diving Scrooge McDuck. I am used to stories of sports owners trying to fleece taxpayers to get better deals on their Ballparks. Crane used those tactics when he was negotiating for a new Spring Training site for the Astros to share with the defending World Series Champion Washington Nationals.

The Sugar Land Skeeters, of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (ALPB), recently announced their intention to form a four-team professional baseball league at Constellation Field, beginning July 3 and running through Aug. 23 with up to 1,700 fans allowed inside the Ballpark for each game.
Photo R. Anderson

However, one could argue that being greedy about tax breaks on a Ballpark is far less Ebenezer Scrooge, pre-visit by the three spirits, then encouraging people to risk their health to watch a game in order for the owner to make a few bucks on food and souvenir sales.

Ultimately, Crane’s desire to have fans in the Ballpark could be declared dead on arrival by local officials in Houston and Harris County, who will most likely get the final say on allowing gatherings like fans at a ballgame.

Based on previous statements made by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, I am fairly convinced that Crane’s pitch to have fans at the games will, in the words of Harry Doyle in Major League will fall, “Just a bit outside.”

Still, the fact that the statement was even made in the middle of a pandemic, and on a day that Houston reported nearly 1,000 new cases of COVID-19, which is around 1.3 times higher than it was a week ago, either demonstrates Crane has a total lack of situational awareness, or is aware and has a total lack of empathy.

COVID-19 has killed over 122,000 Americans, and even the people who recover from it may end up with long-term effects, like holes in their lungs. That is not a political statement that is a medical fact.

Sadly, uniting against a common foe for the common good, does not seem so common anymore. At least that is the case when it comes to public health and COVID-19. The simple act of wearing a face covering, or mask, to protect others has turned into a litmus test of whether you vote blue or red. Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott of Florida get it. Mitt Romney gets it. Masks save lives.

Even Governor Abbott is able to show that he needs to take the virus more seriously than he once did. It is time for everyone else, regardless of political affiliation to do the same. At the end of the day COVID-19 does not care if you vote red or blue. It also isn’t going to give anyone a day pass because they are tired of being inside and want to catch a ballgame and eat some nachos.

As for the comment made by Jim Crane, perhaps he was only kidding. I hear that is the thing people say these days after making a seriously tone-deaf remark in public.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden urge to watch Major League.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson