Shadyside woman injured by foul ball at PNC Park wins round in court
A Shadyside woman injured by a foul ball at a Pirates game can proceed with her lawsuit against the team, Major League Baseball and the city-county Sports & Exhibition Authority despite legal precedents shielding them from liability, an Allegheny County judge ruled Thursday.
An usher was leading Wendy Camlin to her seat behind home plate when the net that should have stopped the ball stretched far enough for the ball to hit her in the head, Camlin’s lawyer said. She was carried off on a stretcher and taken to a hospital.
Common Pleas Judge Timothy Patrick O’Reilly dismissed the defendants’ preliminary objections that the state’s “no duty” precedent, also known as “the baseball rule,” limited their liability because fans at sporting events assume the risk of being struck by errant balls, bats or pucks.
“If she was being escorted, I think that’s different. And flexibility in the screen; whose idea was that?” O’Reilly said.
“Every ballpark in the world, Your Honor,” replied Bryan Stroh, general counsel for the Pirates. Flexible screens keep the ball from caroming off and hurting players, he said.
The defendants will have two months to respond to Camlin’s original complaint, in which she argued the netting was insufficient or incorrectly installed. She is seeking more than $35,000 in damages from each defendant. The lawsuit says Camlin suffered a concussion, migraines and other injuries.
“She was not aware, nor could anyone be aware in those seats, that (the netting) was defective,” said Camlin’s lawyer, Mark Gordon.
Ken Jacobsen, a professor of sports law at Temple University and an owner of the minor-league Wilmington Blue Rocks baseball team, said O’Reilly was correct in not immediately applying the “baseball rule.”
Part of what protects teams and owners from being liable for batted balls is that they must take “reasonable precautions” for the most dangerous areas of the ballpark with things like the netting behind home plate, Jacobsen said. But Camlin’s case contends the netting wasn’t an adequate precaution because it couldn’t stop the ball before it hit her.
Having an usher lead Camlin to her seat while pitches were being thrown may have shifted some of the risk from Camlin to the defendants, Jacobsen said.
“It gives rise to the argument over whether it was safe to go to her seat,” he said. “Having the usher is suggesting it was proper and safe.”
“I can see somebody drawing a distinction between this and the classic foul ball that goes into the stands,” said John Gismondi, a Downtown-based personal injury lawyer. “In an area without protection, you’re going to be more on guard. … Behind a net, you’re sort of subconsciously relying on that for protection.”
Christopher Amar, representing all three defendants, argued that just because the screen is there, patrons shouldn’t think they’re completely safe.
“Arenas don’t assume a duty for sufficient protection so that no patron is ever injured,” Amar said. “(Camlin’s) belief she might have been safe behind a safety measure wasn’t relevant. … The plaintiff was the closest person to the plate in the entire arena.”
Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-391-0927 or [email protected].