Baseball Safety Under Scrutiny After Fan Dies in Atlanta
The death of another fan at a ball park in Atlanta has put the issue of safety at baseball stadiums firmly on the agenda again.
Gregory Murrey of Alpharetta, Ga., 60, became the latest in a long line of statistics when he fell about 40 feet from the upper deck in the seventh inning Saturday night at Turner Field. He was pronounced dead a few hours later. Autopsy reports have yet to be revealed, but no foul play is suspected.
The death piles more questions on a sport that’s already in the dock over its safety record.
USA Today reported that Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfredmay is getting resistance from team owners, and objections from valued season ticket-holders, but “he no longer has a choice,” and it’s time for a change at ballparks before another fan dies or receives head injuries.
The article said safety netting should be expanded to the dugouts if not further afield and the concerns of Kansas City Royals player representative Jeremy Guthrie for a closer examination of the heights of every upper-deck railing, should be heeded.
“It really scares me when I’ll turn around,” St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny told USA TODAY Sports, “and I’ll see in these really close seats people that I know can’t defend themselves -whether it be young kids or elderly people or people just not paying attention.”
It’s frightening to think you may be taking your life in your hands if you go to watch baseball in Norfolk or further afield. Even if you are not killed you could suffer a brain injury from a ball.
Certainly Turner Field in Atlanta has an unenviable reputation. The weekend’s fatality was the second death since 2013 at Turner Field – the first was ruled a suicide – and the third in seven years.
The USA Today article recounted “haunting memories” of four years ago when Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton flipped a baseball to a fan in the field stands. Firefighter Shannon Stone, tried to get the ball for his 6-year-old son, came rushing toward the railing, flipped over and fell 20 feet onto the concrete below. He was dead an hour later.
The International Building Code stipulates that venues like Turner Field and the Rangers’ ballpark have rail heights of 33 inches, rising to 42 inches at the base of aisles. These standards have prevented fan-falling incidents at those parks as well as the Georgia Dome and St. Louis’ Busch Stadium in recent years.
There have also been cases of fans and coaches who have been killed by balls. The sport of baseball reacted in 2007 to the death of Mike Coolbaugh, the Tulsa Drillers first base coach, who was killed by a line drive during a minor league game. Major League Baseball said all base coaches had to wear helmets.
Deaths and injuries have led to premises liability lawsuits against leagues and owners. Gail Payne, an Oakland Athletics season-ticket holder, has filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court requiring MLB to extend the netting from foul pole to foul pole, instead of just a few sections behind home plate.
The lawsuit said she is “constantly ducking and weaving to avoid getting hit by foul balls or shattered bats.”
Every season as many as 1,750 spectators are injured by batted balls at major league games, according to an analysis by the Bloomberg News.
The series of deaths and injuries of fans alarm me as a Virginia injury lawyer. It’s high time for the sport of baseball to improve safety. If you have been hurt at a sporting event or any other venue or premises, call Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers at 757.455.0077.