http://www.statesman.com/news/local/fou ... 79809.html
ennifer Speer thinks she saw the baseball right before it smashed into her face.
One moment she was sitting with her husband, Allan, and their friends in the ninth row near the third base dugout at Dell Diamond in Round Rock; the next she was hunched over in her seat and calling for Allan as blood flowed from her right eye.
"My face just felt like it was on fire," said Speer, 42, of Cedar Park.
A screaming line drive off a visiting player's bat turned an upbeat Saturday night at a Round Rock Express game last year into a lifelong disability for Speer, who lost the sight in her right eye from the ball's impact.
Now, Speer wants others to know how dangerous a night at the ballpark can be. She wants the Round Rock Express to do more to protect fans, and she wants the team held liable for her injuries.
About three months after Speer was injured, the team's insurer offered her $1,192 to pay for the medical bills that her health insurance didn't cover. She rejected the offer, in part because signing the agreement would have prohibited her from talking about her injuries and from seeking further payment from the team. The insurance company's letter noted signs at the ballpark that warn spectators: "Heads up for foul balls."
"I kept my head up," she said, "and I still got hit by a foul ball."
Speer, a human resources director for a manufacturing company, said a lawyer advised her that a line of court rulings protects baseball teams from most negligence lawsuits arising from injuries at the ballpark. She is hoping to find another lawyer to help her challenge that precedent.
"I don't want this to happen to somebody else," she said. "I don't want this to happen to some child sitting in that seat."
Reid Ryan, the team's chief executive and part owner, said the organization has a policy not to discuss people who have been injured at Express games. But he said the team gives numerous warnings to ballpark patrons about the possibility of bats or balls entering the stands, including messages on the back of tickets, signs at Dell Diamond and announcements at the games.
"It's part of the game," Ryan said. "I don't think it's a secret when you go to a baseball game that you are going to have a foul ball come your way."
'The Baseball Rule'
Ryan said serious injuries that require a fan to leave the ballpark are rare at Dell Diamond, but he could not say how many fans have been injured at Express games. Robert Gorman, a baseball historian and professor at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., told The Associated Press last year that professional ballclubs do not keep statistics on fan injuries.
"It's what I call the 'ignorance is bliss' defense: If you don't know, then it becomes harder to hold you legally accountable," he said.
Gorman wrote the 2008 book "Death at the Ballpark," which documented 70 fan deaths resulting from wayward baseballs at ballgames from 1867 to 2007, including two at minor league games, two at major league games and 66 at amateur games.
An additional death happened last year at a San Angelo Colts game when a foul ball struck Wendy Whitehead, a 39-year-old mother of two, in the left temple. The Colts, a professional club that isn't affiliated with a major league team, took the rare step of extending netting down the first and third base lines past the dugouts. Ryan said the Express don't intend to extend the netting at Dell Diamond.
Jim Juliano, a Cleveland lawyer who represents minor league baseball teams, says Texas is among more than half the states that are protected by what sports lawyers call "The Baseball Rule."
Created by generations of court rulings in those states, the rule generally means that as long as team owners take some measures to protect fans sitting in the ballpark's most dangerous areas, then the team is not liable if a fan is injured by a wayward bat or ball.
"What that usually translates into is there needs to be adequate screening behind the home plate area \u2026 where foul balls often come back," Juliano said. "The spectator assumes the risk of foul balls in the other areas."
In Texas, court decisions limiting the liability of ballpark operators are more than a half-century old.
In a 1941 case involving a woman injured by a wayward ball at a San Antonio Missions game, a jury ruled that the minor league team was negligent because it failed to warn patrons of the dangers of batted balls. The judge overturned the verdict, and an appeals court upheld the judge's decision, noting that the woman was "bound to have been acquainted" with the dangers of baseball because of "universal common knowledge" and through her 14-year-old son; "it is inferable from the record that he was a baseball 'fan' as is nearly every normal American boy."