Hi everyone! Miss me? Its been crazy the last few weeks as I have been working on a very large case that is going to trial next month in Oregon state court. Unfortunately, this has occupied so much of my time that I was unavoidably forced to neglect my duties to The Legal Roller Coaster. Well that stops here and now because I’ve just seen something that practically screams out for some attention. And, given that this is my first post of the New Year, I thought it would be fun to start off with something a bit on the lighter side. Ladies and Gentleman, I give you, “The Defense Lawyer’s Nightmare” a/k/a “The Worst Idea For A Promotional Event In History” Seriously, you have to check this out – but please, PLEASE, don’t try anything you are about to see at your facility:
OK...for those of you who didn’t watch the whole thing, here’s the gist. A minor league baseball team in Pennsylvania is hosting the Double A Eastern League All Star Game this summer and is apparently dead set and determined to find any number of ways to put the public and, apparently, its unsuspecting interns, at risk of injury by holding a hitting contest on the field while approximately 500 VIP fans mill about the infield “having one heckuva party” boozing it up at second base, partaking of a raw bar at third base or a grilled brats at short, and finishing off with a nice dessert at first base (wouldn’t it make more intuitive sense to have the dessert at third? I digress...). But don’t worry, there is no danger of any of these people getting beaned by a ball hit from home plate because there will be a 12 foot “net” separating the infield from the batter. Let’s pause there for a moment shall we?
I’ve seen a lot of nets in my life. When a ball is thrown into a net, what happens? Unless that net is made of wood or metal (in which case it is known in legal circles as a “fence”), the net "gives" to absorb the energy of the ball and ultimately stop it. Of course, what happens if one of the 500 shucked-up (a little raw bar at third base humor there) VIPs happens to be standing right next to the net when a ball comes flying into it? I think we know the answer to that, but don’t worry – there’s no crying in baseball so no one could possibly get really hurt, right?
|Good thing they're only minor league hitters ... That net should do the trick.|
OK...let’s also consider one other thing: I have never played professional baseball – not even at the AA level – but last I checked, there is a phenomenon known as a “fly ball” whereby the ball is hit high into the air and comes down, sometimes without traveling very far. Sometimes in the infield. Heck, they even have a special (if generally not understood) rule addressing this very scenario. So what’s to stop a popped up ball from going over the top of the twelve foot net and landing on some poor soul just as he bites into a cheeseburger no doubt sandwiched between two glazed donuts? Apparently nothing based on the animation here. I guess the team either assumes that the Eastern League All-Stars participating in this challenge are either 1) so not-ready for the Big Show that they couldn’t possibly hit one higher than twelve feet or beyond the pitchers mound or 2) are so good that they couldn’t possibly hit a ball that landed anywhere near the infield. I wouldn’t bet the ballpark on either option – particularly since the batters are apparently trying not to hit home runs, but to hit targets littering the shallow outfield just a few feet behind the Baseline Shindig. Hope those batters have really good aim.
Now, some of you may be thinking, “Come on now...this sounds really fun. And, after all, fans at a game run the risk of getting accidentally hit by a ball just be sitting in the stands. Cut the team a break.” You would be right. There is a risk of getting hit by a ball sitting in the stands. The problem is that the object in baseball is not to hit the ball into the stands. Does it happen? Of course, but the risk of injury is relatively low given 1) the typical distance a foul ball travels, and 2) the relatively insignificant chance that, of the thousands of seats in a particular stadium, the ball will target yours. The law recognizes, except possibly in California (thank you very much Mr. Nalwa), that guests at a recreation or sporting event assume the normal risks associated with the event or activity and most people understand and accept this. However, this does not mean that you can put 500 people in a relatively small space, 90 to 127 feet away from a professional baseball player trying to win a hitting contest by aiming at TARGETS just a few feet behind the revelry and reasonably expect that, if someone gets injured, you can argue assumption of the risk. And let’s not even talk about whether a waiver will likely do much in this scenario.
Believe it or not, though, the Infield Bash is probably the least concerning part of this event. Let’s turn now to the outfield festivities.
Whereas there is a chance of an inadvertent injury to a VIP in the infield, in the outfield it’s a different story. Here, the whole point is for the batter to hit the ball directly at one of the interns manning the outfield who, since they are interns and not professional ballplayers, should have no problem catching it. Of course, they are not just outfielders. Oh no...where’s the fun in that?
|I'm sure this guy will be specially trained in trampoline safety.|
In left field will be the trained gymnast ... wait did I say trained gymnast, I meant clumsy college kid ... on a trampoline trying to catch balls hit his way while avoiding the distinct possibility of jumping off the trampoline and breaking something. Yes, trampolines are lots of fun, but face it, there is a reason your insurance company asks if you own one before quoting your home insurance – and its not because your agent might want to stop by for a bounce. Speaking as someone who once broke his foot trying desperately to impress a girl while jumping on a trampoline, I can assure you that this is probably not a brilliant idea.
|He looks like a tall drink of water.|
Let’s move to center field. No trampolines here. Here we have a dunk tank. I admit, assuming the team took some artistic license with the rendering of the tank itself (I seriously doubt it will really look like a giant open-topped glass of water), I don’t have too much of a problem with this. Assuming the “dunkee” (to use more legal terminology) is enclosed in a cage of some sort protected from flying baseballs, I’m actually a bit intrigued to see if anyone can hit the target. This one looks to be fun.
Of course, that’s assuming that the guy driving the “golf ball picker upper” “across the outfield” doesn’t run into the dunk tank, take out the trampoline, or plow into the First Base Fete (I’m running out of ways to describe this party) while trying to avoid mowing down one of the SEVEN minor league mascots that have been “dropped into the outfield” with gloves all attempting to catch balls. Seriously, I realize that the difficulty factor is ratcheted up by having the ball collector car actually moving around the outfield, but REALLY? Bucky the Beaver is in serious danger here. Would it really be that bad to just park the “golf ball picker upper” out in right field as a target? I’m pretty sure that would significantly reduce the risk of it running over someone or something – and let’s face it, there’s a lot of other stuff going on here to still keep it fun.
|Don't worry ... there's plenty of room for the teen-age driver of this thing to maneuver out here. Nope ... no risk there.|
And then there’s the construction crane – strategically positioned right next to the hapless bounce-o-rama happening in left field – with another intern dangling thirty feet above the home run wall (i.e. probably 35 – 40 feet above the ground) also trying desperately to catch balls while praying that the ball “picker upper” does not run into the large piece of construction equipment holding him up and send him plunging into the turf or swinging into the arm of the crane.
And I didn’t even mention “Grammy Award Winning Artist, David Cullen” who will apparently be positioned in “an uncomfortably close position to home plate” (but, again, behind an invincible net) playing "live accompaniment" to the batter who, clearly, will welcome the distraction from the mundane goings-on happening all over the field.
|You want me to sit where? (Yes, this is David Cullen)|
Seriously, though, its not often that I go on record saying that something in our industry (or one close to it) is a really bad idea, but honestly, this is a really bad idea. The exposure to injury, lawsuits, bad press, and workers compensation liability is significant. Moreover, there is a real risk that, if something goes bad, the team will alienate its corporate sponsors and the charities its trying to serve. The goals here are laudable, but from a legal perspective this is not the right way to do it. Hopefully, those of you planning big PR stunts at your facilities in the upcoming season think your events through, from both a PR and a legal perspective, a bit more carefully.