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Braves Seek Immunity for Foul Ball Injury

Court of Appeals today hears case of 6-year-old injured by line drive foul ball

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Cabrera
Then-Brave Melky Cabrera hit a foul ball in 2010 that struck a girl in the stands, allegedly causing brain injury.

The Atlanta Braves today will ask a panel of appeals court judges to say what the team is obligated to do to protect fans from foul balls or flying bats.

The case scheduled to be heard at the Georgia Court of Appeals was filed against the Braves by a parent of a 6-year-old girl who was hit by a foul ball while attending a game at Turner Field in 2010. A Fulton County judge has refused to dismiss the case.

The Braves are seeking a declaration that ballclubs are immune from liability for injuries caused by foul balls if they provide screening for the seats behind home plate and sufficient seats for spectators who wish to sit behind screening.

Backed by the commissioner of baseball, the Braves say that is the majority rule among states that have adopted one and the issue is one of first impression in Georgia.

"These rules apply everywhere that baseball is played," said the Braves' lawyer, Leah Ward Sears, who explained that includes Little League, high school and college ball. That means uncertainty in the rules is a real problem, said Sears, a former Georgia Supreme Court chief justice, now a partner at Schiff Hardin, who is expected to handle today's arguments.

Lawyers for the plaintiff at Atlanta's Law & Moran contend that the Georgia Court of Appeals already declined to adopt the rule being sought by the Braves in 1984 and that the Braves now are asking for an improper advisory opinion. They say the courts should not lock in a rule on baseball liability that cannot take into account different stadium configurations and changing risks such as those associated with more powerful batters and pitchers.

"The game has changed," said E. Michael Moran, who is expected to argue for the plaintiffs today. "The safety rules should change along with that."

In the case before the court, a child identified in court papers only as M.F. was seated with her family a few rows behind the visitors' dugout at Turner Field. A line drive foul ball hit by then-Brave Melky Cabrera flew into the stands and smashed into M.F.'s forehead. M.F.'s family claims that the blow fractured M.F.'s skull in 30 places and caused a severe traumatic brain injury. (Last year, the plaintiffs note, Cabrera was suspended for 50 games by Major League Baseball for steroid use.)

The Braves say fans like to have a choice between a seat behind the netting that covers the seating area behind home plate and a seat with an unobstructed view. They emphasize that there were no games at Turner Field during the 2010 season in which the protected seating area was sold out.

The lawyers for M.F. and her father argue that the areas behind the dugouts, which are not protected by nets, also are dangerous for fans.

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