01 Sep 2001 Lawsuit Against Atlanta Braves is Way Off Base: Suing, Not Baseball, is Becoming Our National Pastime
In the greed-focused world of American personal injury lawyers, no good deed goes unpunished.
Take, for instance, a simple act of kindness by Atlanta Braves outfielder Andruw Jones. In an era when utility infielders make more in one season than Willie Mays did in his entire career, and often act as arrogantly as a British prince, Jones did something nice for the fans the other day. He caught a ball in the outfield and tossed it over his shoulder into the stands, so a fan could have a coveted souvenir. Now a woman is suing both Jones and the Braves, claiming through her personal injury lawyer that the ball struck and injured her face.1
If she is successful – and who’d bet against it? – some sympathetic jury will award her a few million dollars. Her lawyer will take his standard 25 to 40% cut plus expenses. And they’ll walk happily out of the courtroom, case closed.
Case closed perhaps, but the game will have just started. Personal injury lawyers in all 30 major league cities, like pigs on an agri-business hog farm at feeding time, will start watching for similar incidents in their hometowns.
A prediction: Major League Baseball will react quickly to any surge in lawsuits. The first and most logical step likely will be to impose a ban on players flinging baseballs into the stands, thereby severing one of the few remaining links between pampered multi-millionaire athletes and the millions of hard-working fans whose ticket purchases pay their salaries.
Another prediction: That move, drastic as it may seem, won’t stop the personal injury lawyers. It’s not hard to imagine that they’ll respond by running ads in sports sections of newspapers seeking people who’ve been victimized by a foul ball, an errant throw or the splintered end of a broken bat. Eventually, Major League Baseball may have to encircle its ballparks with walls of wire mesh or 50-foot partitions of tempered glass similar to those that protect hockey fans from 100-mile per hour slapshots.
Baseball will not be totally ruined by such developments, but it certainly will lose some of its appeal for any Little Leaguer or adult who ever took a mitt to the stadium with the hope of shagging a foul ball.
This is a frivolous lawsuit. Baseball public address announcers frequently warn the crowd about the possibility of balls landing in stands. The warnings usually are repeated in print on tickets and in programs, and flashed on scoreboards as well. No one in their right mind would go to Camden Yards or Wrigley Field or Busch Stadium or Fenway Park and not expect a ball, whether fair or foul, to be lofted or lined their way. For most fans that’s part of the thrill of baseball, along with an ice-cold Bud, a hot dog, peanuts and Cracker Jack.
That thrill is about to vanish – thanks to avaricious lawyers ready to sue at the drop of a rosin bag.
Baseball is not the only target under attack. Wherever there’s a possibility of human error or a legal payoff, lawyers swiftly swarm by the hundreds, like sharks off the coast of central Florida. A man orders a tattoo artist to put a misspelled word on his arm – and later, sues. A customer learns his BMW was scratched and repainted by the dealer – sues. Parents discover that their children like collecting baseball and hockey cards – and sue. A health club patron slips on soap in the shower – sues. A drunken woman falls off a barstool – her heirs sue. A man wants his wife to stop smoking – sues.2
At some point Americans are going to have to make their voices heard and demand that our elected representatives step up to the plate and pass tort reform legislation that reins in the recent surge of runaway lawsuits. To accomplish that objective, they’ll have to speak louder than the $124 million that personal injury lawyers clanked into political campaign coffers in election-year 2000, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
If the case filed against Andruw Jones and the Atlanta Braves is any indication, American voters better do it sooner rather than later. Most of the people I know can live without a tattoo or even a sleek, new Beemer. But allowing lawyers to water-down the national pastime into an insipid and sterile experience borders on un-American.
Amy Ridenour is President of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C. think tank.
1 Dennis Prager, “Here’s an Idea: Let’s Bean All the Lawyers,” Los Angeles Times, August 9, 2001.
2 For more information about these and other frivolous lawsuits, visit http://www.nationalcenter.org/LegalBriefs.html.