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Family of girl hurt at Yankee Stadium may have legal case

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 9/22/2017 CHRISTIAN RED
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Video by Sports Illustrated

Forty-seven years ago, in separate incidents that took place exactly two months apart at two different National League stadiums - Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, and Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh -a fan was struck by a foul ball during a Major League Baseball game.

In the first incident, 14-year-old Alan Fish got hit in the temple by a ball off the bat of Dodgers player Manny Mota. Fish died four days after the May 16, 1970 incident. Two months after Fish was struck, Evelyn Jones attended a Pirates game on the inaugural opening of Three Rivers Stadium. Jones was hit in the eye during batting practice while she was standing in a right field walkway, according to legal documents.

Both the family of Fish and Jones filed suits against the respective stadiums and teams, and the results of those two cases still reverberate over four decades later, following a frightening incident Wednesday at Yankee Stadium, when a young girl was struck by a foul ball off the bat of Todd Frazier.

And while, it's unclear if the family of the girl is exploring litigation of any sort in the wake of the horrific episode, the Fish and Jones cases from the '70s provide a road map to what might result with these types of lawsuits. Some of the language in the Jones case documents in particular could serve as problematic for the Yankees.

Jones ultimately lost her case on appeal in Pennsylvania Supreme Court - court documents say Jones "failed to meet her burden of proving negligence" - and the case upheld what is known as the "Baseball Rule," meaning fans cannot recover damages if they are struck by a foul ball because when they purchase a ticket, part of the contract the fan is obligated to adhere to is assuming the risk of injury in that type of environment. But other language in the Jones case suggests that today's fans may have more leverage in legal cases, given developments in the game over the years. The lawyer who represented the Fish family all those years ago weighed the legal possibilities of a family like the one of the young girl injured Wednesday.

"No assumption of risk would be my argument," says Brooklyn-born, Los Angeles-based attorney Stanley Jacobs, 81, who represented the Fish family after Alan died from injuries sustained in that 1970 incident. "A young girl wouldn't understand that risk. How does a child voluntarily assume the risk of getting hit by a baseball? Was Yankee Stadium negligent for not providing screening in that area? That's a question for a jury. Was there negligence to begin with for not screening that area off?"

According to Jacobs, after Fish was struck in that game, he was examined by a physician at Dodger Stadium whom the team had contracted. Jacobs said the doctor didn't put Fish under any observation, and that Fish returned to his seat.

"At the end of the game, Alan began throwing up," said Jacobs. "I sued the doctor and the Dodgers on the grounds of medical malpractice." Although Jacobs says he lost his case before a jury, after he appealed, the case was set to be retried. But before the retrial began, the Dodgers reached a settlement with the Fish family.

"The more basic argument - this is a multi-billion dollar business, and you will have these types of injuries every so often," said Jacobs. "Why should it be on the fan? Couldn't the major league teams buy an insurance policy that covers fans? The policy would cost peanuts. They could insure the fans as part of the price of the ticket."

In the Jones case, documents state that the "plaintiff produced no evidence tending to show that defendant's screening of certain sections of its grandstand deviated from that customarily employed at other baseball parks."

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred recommended to all 30 teams in December 2015 to expand protective netting at stadiums, but it's unclear if an argument could be made that Yankee Stadium has "deviated" from protective screening that other stadiums have employed since no league-wide mandate has been established yet on the issue. But six years before the young girl was injured at Yankee Stadium, another fan at the famed Bronx ballpark was struck by a foul ball, and has been advocating for protective netting ever since.

"It's very clear that Yankee owners made a decision to resist installing expanded protective netting for economic reasons," said Andy Zlotnick, a Manhattan real estate executive who six years ago was drilled in the left eye by a foul ball at the Stadium. "It's galling to me that a little girl sitting behind the Twins was injured. It's immoral. Enough is enough. I understand that fans have a view of game, but the game has changed. The organization owes it to its fans to make the ballpark safe."

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