Tribe not responsible for foul ball injury says jury

A jury has sided with the Cleveland Indians in the lawsuit brought by a fan who was partially blinded by a foul ball during a game.

Keith Rawlins, of Rochester, New York, will get no money after jurors found the team was not responsible for Rawlins’ injuries during the July 20, 2012, incident at Progressive Field.

The jury announced its verdict late Friday, after a day of deliberating and four days of testimony in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Daniel Gaul’s courtroom.

Lawyers for Rawlins could not be reached for comment.

Todd Hicks, a Chardon-based civil attorney who represented the Indians, said he was pleased with the jury’s decision in the case the team argued could have had wide-ranging implications for baseball teams and parks around the country.

Rawlins took his then-15-year-old daughter to the game against the Baltimore Orioles and sat along the left field line in the stadium’s lower bowl. With two outs in the top of the ninth inning, Rawlins claimed the park’s ushers ordered fans to empty the section he was in and several others before a post-game fireworks show.

Rawlins said that he and several other fans stood up and walked up the aisle. As he had his back turned, he heard the crack of a baseball bat connecting with a pitch. He turned toward the field just as a line-drive foul ball struck him in the face.

The impact broke several bones and left him blind in his left eye, court records say. The ball was traveling about 95 miles per hour, according to court records.

Doctors who treated Rawlins testified that he may need future surgeries and could possibly need a prosthetic eye. The vision loss left Rawlins unable to perform his job as a tool and die machinist, his lawyers said.

Major League Baseball has long held, and courts have agreed, that fans assume the risk of being hit by objects like baseballs or broken bats as part of going to a game.

But Rawlins argued that the usher’s order caused him to turn his back to the field during play, going above and beyond the normal amount of risk.

The Indians denied that the usher actually “evacuated” the section during the game. They called five other fans from the section who testified at trial that the ushers did not clear the section before the end of the game. The team also pointed to a deposition in which they said Rawlins said that the usher “stared him down” from the aisle, and Rawlins took that stare as an order to evacuate his section, according to court records.

The team also argued that, even if the usher did actually order the section removed, a verdict in Rawlin’s favor would open the teams’ up to a flood of lawsuits by fans who are hit by balls while ordering from beer, hot dogs or popcorn vendors during the game.

Rawlins filed the lawsuit in November 2013, and Gaul granted summary judgment in favor of the team. Rawlins appealed Gaul’s decision, and the Ohio Eighth District Court of Appeals overturned the decision. The Ohio Supreme Court upheld the decision to let Rawlins’ lawsuit move forward.- by Cory Shaffer, Dayton Daily News (Ohio)