The term “ catastrophic injury ” does not have a precise legal or medical definition. Rather it is used to refer to an injury that has permanent life changing consequences for the victim and their family. At our law firm, we most often see catastrophic injuries in the form of brain damage and spinal cord injuries, but it can also be the loss of a limb, eye or any organ function that severely impacts your future.
When we think of baseball we think of warm summer days, peanuts and cracker jack and of course the game itself. We don’t typically associate baseball with catastrophic injury. However, author Robert Gorman has taken a look at the sport’s history and identified over 2,000 players, coaches and spectators who have actually died while playing or watching this much-loved game. He is on his second edition of, Death at the Ballpark: More Than 2,000 Game-Related Fatalities of Players, Other Personnel and Spectators in Amateur and Professional Baseball, 1862-2014. His research, which involves a retrospective study over the past 150 years, identifies game-related deaths, the use of protective equipment, game rules, crowd control as well as stadium building design, all with an eye towards identifying how these factors might contribute to the horrible injuries. The author also considers weather as well as questionable and risky behavior by both athletes and fans. The author believes that his numbers may actually be an underrepresentation of the actual harm given the lack of reporting of some injuries and the many that occur in the minor leagues. His study is a stark reminder that even the most seemingly benign of activities carry some level of risk.
Over the years there have been many improvements to player equipment and to the rules itself that reduces the risk of serious injury to the players. The athletes today have all kinds of protective equipment – from ankle guards to heart guards as well as improved basic equipment such as padding on the outfield walls. The MLB has also changed rules to promote safety, such as the rule that states, “a runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher”. The author notes that although we have made great strides in protecting the players themselves, not enough has been done to actually protect the fans in the seats. We sell them a ticket with a warning on the back but the reality is no one is really thinking of the risk of injury while watching a game. Next time you are at the stadium look down at the fans in the box seats in foul ball territory and see how many are on their phones, engaged in conversation or little kids completely focused on their dipping dots. If they are not paying attention to what is going on behind the plate and if they are sitting in the foul ball danger zone there is a real risk they could be seriously hurt. Many stadiums have extended the netting behind home plate to help reduce the risk of such injuries.
One of the scariest things about Mr. Gorman’s book is the fact that the statistics he cites are injuries which lead to death. It doesn’t even address the non-lethal injuries that can and do occur. The author has some strong opinions and suggestions as to what could be implemented to help protect fans. It’s an incredibly interesting read.
Enjoy the Cardinals. Enjoy our great pastime. But be careful out there especially if you are with young kids. Adults sit on the batter side and let your kid be a kid and enjoy his ice cream while you pay attention to whats going on on the field.