Wendy Camlin is the plaintiff in a personal injury suit in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court that involves injuries she sustained as a spectator at a Pittsburgh Pirates game after being hit by a foul ball. The defendants in the claim included the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Sports & Exhibition Authority, Major League Baseball (MLB), and Promats Athletics. In the second inning, Camlin was walking to her seat behind home plate when she was struck in the back of the head. The defendants were accused of failing to ensure guest safety. She was taken to a local hospital for treatment following the incident.
Controversy Regarding Judge
Judge Michael Della Vecchia was originally assigned to hear the case. A motion was filed by Promats Athletics requesting that he be removed from presiding in this matter. The defendant alleges that Judge Della Vecchia had prior communications with a plaintiff attorney and may be partial to them. The court did reassign the case to another judge; however, the court was clear that no misconduct occurred.
One Defendant Remains
Major League Baseball was granted a dismissal in the matter, while the Pirates and Sports & Exhibition Authority both confidentially settled with the plaintiffs. Promats, the company who provided the netting that had been installed to prevent these types of incidents, was left as the lone defendant. The claim alleges that the netting was inadequate and not correctly installed to prevent the baseball from striking the victim.
Major League Baseball's Role
In recent years, similar injuries that have occurred involving fans prompted MLB to proactively address the issue. League management recommended that all teams implement a layer of netting in approximately a 70-foot area around home plate. More recently, netting has also been installed in stadiums extending down the first and third base lines. A small number of fans complained that the netting partially obstructed their view.
People largely enjoy sporting events because of the action and unpredictable nature of the game. The tickets for entry to the Pirates games had a “waiver of responsibility” in small print on the back. It was a warning to fans that baseballs and broken baseball bats may enter the seating areas.
The majority of courts have traditionally agreed that those attending sporting events are aware (or should be aware) that objects such as baseballs or hockey pucks may potentially hit them. One key factor that is overlooked is that many of these incidents are partly the result of fans being focused on using their mobile devices and are not paying attention.
A Pennsylvania Superior Court ruling in 2013 confirmed that sports teams and venue operators are not liable for these types of injuries if they have put “reasonable precautions” in place to prevent harm. For a plaintiff to prevail they need to prove that the facility demonstrated some failure to adhere to established norms. In Loughran vs. Philadelphia Phillies, a fan was struck by a ball and the court ruled the defendant did not have a duty to prevent the incident. They addressed several key questions such as:
- Do people attending baseball games assume the risk of being hit by a ball?
- Is there an inherent risk of being hit in the face by a ball?
- Does the defendant have a duty to prevent balls from striking fans?