Fan sues NY Mets and MLB, says flying piece of broken maple bat shattered bones in his face

Monday, August 9, 2010

Fan sues NY Mets, claims injuries from broken bat

NEW YORK — A New York Mets fan who says a shattered bat smashed him in the face in the Shea Stadium stands is suing the team and Major League Baseball, claiming they didn’t do enough to protect fans from break-prone maple bats.

James G. Falzon’s lawsuits follow years of discussion of the safety of maple baseball bats, which have become increasingly popular but have been shown to break apart more readily than traditional ash bats.

Falzon was in a box seat along the third-base line, watching a fly ball soar, when the barrel of a broken maple bat flew into his face during an August 2007 Atlanta Braves game at the Mets’ former home, according to lawsuits he filed Friday in Manhattan.

He suffered multiple facial fractures, including a broken palate, as his traumatized 11-year-old son looked on, the lawsuits said.

Falzon is seeking unspecified damages from the team, the league, Rawlings-brand bat maker the Jarden Corp. and two players: Mets second baseman Luis Castillo, who was wielding the bat, and then-Mets catcher Ramon Castro, who owned it, according to the lawsuits.

The team, the league and Rye, N.Y.-based Jarden declined to comment Monday. Castillo is still with the Mets, who were off Monday. Castro now plays for the Chicago White Sox and couldn’t immediately be reached by telephone for comment.

Baseball bats have traditionally been made from ash trees, but maple bats have gained ground in recent years, particularly after Barry Bonds used them to break Mark McGwire’s single-season home run record in 2001 and Hank Aaron’s career home run record in 2007.

But an MLB committee found in 2008 that maple bats were three times as likely to break in multiple places as ash bats.

The ruptures sometimes send pieces hurtling into fans, umpires and players. Boston Red Sox shortstop Nick Green had to deflect a maple bat barrel with his forearm while the ball rolled between his legs during a game against the Washington Nationals last year.

The league set new bat production standards after the 2008 season, including requirements that manufacturers track the breakage rates of different models and outfit bats with dots that show how straight the wood’s grain is. The straighter the grain, the more durable the bat.

The broken-bat rate has since dropped from 1 per game to 0.55, the league says.

Pointing to MLB-commissioned studies of maple bats that went back to 2005, Falzon’s lawsuits argue that the league and the Mets failed to keep spectators “reasonably safe from hazards they had actual knowledge of, including the increased danger posed by shattering maple bats.”

The suits also accuse the players of not being careful enough in inspecting and maintaining the bat and accuse the manufacturer of producing an “inherently dangerous” bat.

MLB says on tickets that fans assume risk for accidents incidental to the game, such as getting hit by foul balls and broken bats.

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