Ticket Holder’s Suit Against BoSox Owner Highlights MLB Fan Safety Controversy

Fenway Foul Balls and Bats Hurt
Daniel Flynn

A Boston Red Sox fan who was struck in the head by a foul ball in June, 2014, has sued team owner John Henry, claiming negligence on the part of the owner.

Following the filing of the suit this past week a fan died on Saturday night falling from the upper deck at Turner Field in Atlanta. The fatality marked the third such death at the home park of the Atlanta Braves.

Stephanie Taubin of Brookline, Massachusetts, sat above home plate in the EMC Club on June 17, 2014 when a foul ball hurtled through a space that had previously been protected by glass. The glass had been removed for renovations.

Taubin’s suit stated that the removal of the glass left the EMC Club, previously known as the 406 Club, “at greater risk of foul balls entering that [section] of Fenway Park,” according to The Boston Globe. The suit added that the ball caused injuries including facial fractures and neurological damage, and asked for compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and diminished earning capacity.

Responding to the suit, the Red Sox issued a statement, saying the team “is unaware of the specifics [of the lawsuit] and generally does not comment on pending legal matters. But the safety of Red Sox fans and providing a quality ballpark experience are essential to the Red Sox, and to Mr. Henry, and are goals for which we strive as an organization to deliver.”

After Taubin’s injury, medical personnel treated her before transported her to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Taubin’s injury came in the midst of two other incidents at Fenway in 2015 in which fans were injured. On June 5, Tonya Carpenter, 44, of Paxton, sitting on the third-base side of the field, endured a flying, shattered bat to her face that resulted in life-altering injuries. On July 10, a foul ball struck Stephanie Wapenski, 36.

Carpenter needed a week at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center before she moved to a rehabilitation facility; Wapenski was transported to Beth Israel to receive over 30 stitches and a CAT scan. She was released the next day.

In addition to the fact the baseball tickets display warnings on the back regarding safety, and Fenway also displays signs warning fans about bats and balls, Steve Adelman, an attorney who has written a great deal regarding the safety of sports venues, including Fenway Park, pointed out that a “harsh” legal principle he called the “baseball rule” argues that fans are responsible for their own safety. He asserted:

Discussions revolving around expanding netting around the field in MLB have been ongoing for some time. In 2007 and 2012, the issue was considered in collective bargaining agreements, but the owners rejected the idea. In virtually all parks, the netting surrounds the sections around home plate, but the Arizona Diamondbacks expanded their netting at Chase Field before the 2014 season from 73 feet in length to 150 feet. The Philadelphia Phillies plan to extend their netting, but are waiting to see what the new MLB standards are before acting.

MLB spokesman Pat Courtney stated that MLB is working hard to solve the problem, but doesn’t expect to resolve the problem during the 2015 season. MLB must factor into its decision the laws and codes of the cities and counties where the stadiums are located.

Numerous injuries have occurred in 2015 as a result of foul balls, including as recently as Thursday in Philadelphia, as well as these:

April 11, Cincinnati: A man was struck over his right eye at Great American Ballpark;

May 3, San Francisco: A boy near the first base-side dugout was hit in the head by a checked-swing foul ball at A T & T Ballpark;

June 19, Philadelphia: A boy was struck by a foul ball on the upper chest near his left shoulder;

July 6, Milwaukee: A young mother was hit in the face by a foul ball at Miller Park;

August 21, Detroit: A woman seated behind the home team dugout at Comerica Park was struck on the head by a foul ball;

August 21, Chicago: A woman seated behind the camera well along the first base side of Wrigley Field was hit in the left side of her head by a line drive foul ball.