An Illinois man is suing the Chicago Cubs and Major League Baseball after he was hit in the face with a foul ball, leaving him temporarily blind in his left eye. He says he may still lose his eye, and his lawsuit faults the Cubs and the MLB for not installing enough safety netting to protect fans.
John "Jay" Loos, 60, attended a Cubs game against Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field on August 29. Loos had a seat in the outfield just past first base—Section 135, Row 11. A line-drive foul ball hit him in the face. According to a statement from his lawyer, Loos broke his nose and six bones around his left eye. Loos says he's had three surgeries already and expects he'll need two more.
"I knew foul balls go into the stands," Loos told USA Today. "I guess I had no idea how fast they went. It was a like a missile." The lawsuit, which seeks more than $50,000 in damages, argues that Loos wouldn't have been injured if the Cubs had extended protective netting from home plate to the far end of its dugout. The suit points to other clubs, such as the St. Louis Cardinals, that have extended netting in place. According to the New York Times, only ten of the 30 MLB stadiums have netting that stretches at least to the far ends of the dugout. A 2014 Bloomberg News analysis found that more than 1,750 people are injured every year from foul balls and broken bats flying into the stands.
Loos said at a press conference on Monday:
"Fans are the lifeblood of Major League Baseball. There should be nothing more important than their safety. This is a problem that Major League Baseball has known about for decades. Every year we hear stories about people who suffer serious injuries from foul balls. My life and the lives of many fans have been changed by forever by Major League Baseball's failure to protect its fans. It's too late for me, but Major League Baseball must fix this, not after the playoffs, not next year, but now."
A spokesperson for the Cubs declined to comment on the suit to the Associated Press; Tonic has contacted both the team and the league for comment and will update this post when we hear back.
Major League Baseball doesn't require extended netting; it doesn't even require netting between home plate and the dugouts. In 2015, the league recommended that clubs string netting from home plate to the beginning of each dugout—not the end. That recommendation came after a woman was seriously injured by a broken bat at Fenway Park. Several teams, including the Philadelphia Phillies, applauded the move; every team complied, with ten teams going beyond the minimum recommendation, extending the netting at least to the far end of both dugouts.
According to Forbes, those ten teams are: the Texas Rangers, the Washington Nationals, the Kansas City Royals, the Minnesota Twins, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Houston Astros, the Atlanta Braves, and the New York Mets.
Fan safety remains an ongoing concern, according to the MLB. "We continually are talking to the individual clubs about what they should be doing in each of their stadiums. I think the reluctance to do it on a league-wide basis only relates to the difficulty of having a single rule that fits 30 stadiums that obviously are not designed the same way," MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in July, according to USA Today.
Even before Loos filed his suit, though, talk of extended netting was in the air. In September, a toddler was hit in the face by a foul ball at Yankee Stadium in a game versus the Minnesota Twins. Her father, Geoffrey Jacobson, described to the New York Times seeing her in the hospital afterwards, with a fractured nose and orbital bone, her eyes swollen shut, and the imprint of the baseball's stitches on her forehead.
After the Yankees incident, at least five teams, including the Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Colorado Rockies, and, yes, the Chicago Cubs, announced their plans to extend the netting in advance of the 2018 season—though with varying degrees of specificity. The Yankees, disturbingly silent until the girl's father began talking to the Times, eventually said they'd extend their netting before next season. During the July All-Star break, the team's chief operating officer told the Times that fans with box seats complained that the Yankes were even considering the netting, because it would block their view.
Jacobson sounded resigned to the fact that his personal tragedy might spur some much-needed change. "It's something that could have been addressed years ago," he said.
Sixteen teams down, another 14 to go.